Classic Film Reviews – Desk Set2 min read

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Brenda Fellman

Desk Set (1957) is a romantic comedy starring the classic actors Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

A mysterious man is seen frequently loitering by the research department of a big TV network. We soon learn this is an engineer named Richard Sumner, and he’s been ordered to keep the reason he is there a secret. The truth is that Sumner wants to computerize the whole TV network system. Eventually the head of the department, Bunny Watson, discovers his plans, and the ensuing battle of wit and banter exposes both Watson’s fear of losing her job and her growing feelings for him.

Both Tracy and Hepburn have brilliant rapport on screen, and the witty banter flies back and forth throughout the whole film with ease. The added repartee of the supporting characters makes this a film a truly enjoyable watch. Furthermore, the entire cast is very believable in their roles as they are the right age group for each of their appointed characters.

Despite its great humour and hilarious storyline, this film was not well received when it came out, as it was unusual for its time. In the words of John McCarten, who wrote for The New Yorker, “Both Mr. Tracy and Miss Hepburn give their formidable all to Desk Set, and occasionally they make things seem reasonably acceptable, but the material is too shoddy even for them, and in the long pull the movie is a bore.” In a way, I can understand Mr McCarten’s point. In some places, the film can seem to drag on, and in others, the dialogue can be a bit dull. While the film might be difficult to get through in terms of length, is an interesting look at what would later become the ‘work place’ comedy.

Desk Set is simultaneously dated and ahead of its time. The film’s office setting, midcentury style, and technophobic slant are all typical of 1950s comedy. Yet, in this decade, there were only two types of romantic comedies, and this film does not fit into either category. Instead, it is more aligned with modern day comedy. For example, the witty banter between the two main characters is reminiscent of such films as When Harry Met Sally (1989).

All in all, I enjoyed this film and would suggest watching it if you enjoy romantic comedies or enjoy the workplace comedy.

Also, I want to say hello to all of my readers. If you have any suggestions for a film you would like me to review, please leave it in the comments down below, and I would be happy to review it.

Desk Set – Cast

Spencer Tracy – Richard Sumner

Katharine Hepburn – Bunny Watson

Gig Young – Mike Cutler

Joan Blondell – Peg Costello

Dina Merrill – Sylvia Blair

Sue Randall – Ruthie Saylor




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