Another year, another holiday season and yet again you are treated (subjected?) to my 25 day run of Christmas film discussion and reviews. I have a pretty good line up for you this year that features quite a few new titles and some familiar ones as well. This first entry is one I don't recall if I have actually discussed on this blog before. It is one I always manage to watch every year and yet I never think of it as being a Christmassy type movie...yet it's time span encompasses Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's in one breathless two-hour morsel. If that's not a Christmas movie, I don't know what is. So consider this first film a shout out to all of us working stiffs who don't get enough time off and look forward to the season as a time to celebrate but also as a time to let our hair down and get some R and R. These people are the Desk Set.
It's 1957 and at the Federal Broadcasting Company in New York City (which I believe is meant to stand in for 30 Rockafeller Plaza and NBC) things are getting shaken up in the Reference Department. It seems that the President of the company, Mr. Azae, has enlisted the services of one Richard Sumner to perform some sort of efficiency task in Reference and the ladies there, Ruthie, Sylvia, and Peg, are somewhat concerned. Whenever an efficiency expert is called in to evaluate a department that means only one thing, the pink slips are coming in and someone is going out. Bunny Watson, the head of Reference, however refuses to be as mussed by this intrusion...partly because she is curious as to why he is investigating their department and partly because Mr. Sumner and his peculiar habits intrigue her. Sumner himself is equally intrigued with Bunny, given her uncanny ability to recall copious amounts of facts from off the top of her head, and soon a flirtation is developing between them. This is a complication of sorts, given that Bunny already is in a relationship with her boss, Mike Cutler, but also because the girls eventually find out that Sumner intends to put his super computer, EMERAC, into their department. Will this new "mechanical brain" end up getting them fired due to lack of necessity? The whole situation looks to ruin everyone's holidays unless something gives.
Desk Set, based on the play "The Desk Set" by William Marchant, has often been called a dated and rather by-the-numbers comedy and those criticisms are not exactly unfounded. The idea of computerization eliminating jobs was a big fear of the times and seems rather silly now, given how many of us probably have a computer in our workplace, but then I don't think that lessens the suspense at all. If you can place yourself into the context and identify with the characters, it's still a valid conflict. The love-triangle aspect is also not as tired as you might think in this context, since Sumner (Spencer Tracy) and Cutler (Gig Young) are both rather poor choices for mates for Bunny (Katherine Hepburn) who is clearly better than both of them. And yet, they both play against each other so well and so....how do I put it?...not advesarial over the love of Bunny that it becomes easy to see which of the men (poor choices as they may be) is the best one. The supporting characters and their interactions are also very memorable including Joan Blondell as Peg whos down-to-eather sarcasm keeps Bunny grounded in reality. Overall, there is a great deal to enjoy about Desk Set if you can appreciate (overlook?) the 1950's setting and the slight office sexism of the time. Hepburn is in fine form and the comedy is top notch. It's a wonderful way to spend an early December evening.