If you are under 40 years of age, you probably will not remember that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy had an off-screen love affair that transcended anything they did together in their films. They made nine movies together and the chemistry between them was obvious and highly emotional. They never married because Spencer Tracy was Roman Catholic and would not leave his wife and his handicapped child. The legacy they left behind as star-crossed lovers is legendary; the two are unforgettable.
Katharine Hepburn - Wikimedia
“Desk Set” is typical of the type of comedy in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were cast. Katherine plays the part of a woman named Bunny Watson, the head of the Research Department of a large corporation which houses three other women who answer questions over the phone and have much of the information already in their heads. Each year in December, they receive numerous calls asking for the names of Santa’s reindeers.
Bunny has had a seven-year relationship with one of the rising executives in the company, Mike Cutler (Gig Young), who has been stringing her along without benefit of a marriage proposal in the offing. She is hoping to receive an invitation to the annual corporate dinner dance, but has had no indication from him as the time draws near.
Spencer Tracy - Wikimedia
Arrival of the Efficiency Expert
Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) is a bright MIT graduate whose job as an efficiency expert allows him access to offices for the purpose of improving their functionality. He is asked by the corporate president not to divulge the fact that the company plans a merger with another company, with the result that new hires will be coming on board. Richard Sumner has produced a computer machine named EMERAC which is built to relieve the employees of mundane tasks so that they can concentrate on more major functions of their office. When Richard Sumner sets up shop in the Research Department, the girls are leery of losing their jobs to EMERAC, and do not act kindly towards him.
An interesting episode takes place between Sumner and Bunny when he asks her to have lunch so that they can discuss without interruption the purpose of his visit. Bunny is surprised when Sumner brings a bag lunch along and they head for the patio over the top floor of the building on a cold December day. Sumner poses several questions to Bunny requiring the retention of facts thrown at her, requiring a superior memory. Sumner is surprised that Bunny is up to the task as she utilizes various mnemonic devices to aid her memory to return the information correctly. Their palaver back and forth reveals a real-life relationship involving a give-and-take which is not often present when actors are performing in a scene.
Joan Blondell - Wikimedia
An Awkward Moment
Another awkward scene takes place when Sumner and Bunny are caught in the rain after getting a lift from an employee, and Bunny is obligated to ask Sumner up to her place where he can dry off from the downpour. The only alternative clothing she has to give him is a Christmas present she had purchased for Mike Cutler, a robe with his initials, MC, on the chest. As Bunny prepares dinner for themselves, a knock on the door interrupts her. It is Mike Cutler who has stopped over unannounced. When Sumner walks out of the bathroom with a bathrobe on, naturally Mike feels he has caught Sumner red-handed. They each tried to explain to Mike that they were caught in the downpour and courtesy dictated that Bunny should provide a temporary shelter for Sumner.
The next day at work, Mike finally broached the subject to Bunny about attending the corporate dinner dance, which of course Bunny accepted, having bought her dress for the affair already. Her closest confidante in the office, Peg (Joan Blondell), has always been leery of Mike and has warned Bunny several times about not expecting too much from him. As it turns out, Mike had to bow out of the dinner dance when the boss asked him to accompany him on a business trip. Of course, Peg and the other research librarians in the office have not noticed the friendship developing between Sumner and Bunny because they are fearful of losing their jobs because of his constant presence in their department.
Gig Young - Wikimedia
The Christmas Party
The office Christmas party, scattered throughout the building, brings out some interesting activity. Bunny becomes a little intoxicated on champagne, Mike brings Bunny a gift of earrings in a small box which could be mistaken for a ring box, and announces that the boss has given him a promotion which will take him out west. He asks Bunny to marry him and to come with him. Bunny refuses his proposal.
Demonstration of EMERAC
The day arrives when EMERAC is brought to the office. Sumner’s assistant, a female named Miss Warriner (Neva Patterson) proceeds to demonstrate to the girls how the computer will come up with the customer’s answer faster than the girls can look it up. Of course, EMERAC does not come through. One word in the question can throw the computer off, and divert the answer to a distant connection, such as a movie associated loosely with the word. The girls are able to show that their skills are superior to the computer. Also, the machine is so loud, it is distracting to everyone in the room. Sumner is obliged to admit that the machine did not live up to his expectations, as Miss Warriner leaves the office in a huff.
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy - Wikimedia
In this decade of the 21st century, we would be able to tell the girls that they would probably be out of a job soon anyway with the technology that was soon to arrive. People no longer have to call a reference library to obtain information. They merely have to google it and the answer pops up immediately. We won’t spoil the ending, however, by letting the girls know.
As in all Tracy-Hepburn comedies, the lovers find a way, and this film is no exception. I love the classics which bring back memories from my younger days. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were a big part of those memories. It was fun to renew their acquaintance once again.
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