Saturday, August 5th, at 8pm Eastern, our first live-tweet movie will be the 1957 classic comedy Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, co-starring Gig Young and Joan Blondell. The screenplay was written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who adapted the William Marchant stage play. The movie was directed by Walter Lang.
The original play ran for 296 performances on Broadway. I’m not sure a play that ran 37 weeks would get a movie adaptation these days. This was the eighth time Hepburn and Tracy were paired onscreen, the ninth and final would be ten years later, when they made Tracy’s last film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. If the last name of the screenwriters sounds familiar, you might know of their daughters’ work. Nora, Delia, Amy, and Hallie Ephron have all had careers writing, producing, and directing movies.
The movie plot isn’t terribly complex. Set in the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company, all stories must be fact checked before being aired, keeping the Reference and Research Department busy. An efficiency expert (pardon me, methods engineer) is hired to install the modern convenience of a computer. Humor, misunderstanding, and romance ensue.
Why does this film delight me? If you’ve seen War Games, you know that computers existed before they could sit on your desk or in your hand. But EMERAC, the computer in this movie, is behemoth. It must be fed thousands and thousands of punch cards filled with data, and to our modern eyes, it hardly seems worth it, but this is the march of technology, and I love it.
In many Tracy & Hepburn movies, while the chemistry is crackling, and the dialog is snappy, there is a definite air of paternalism. Katharine’s character may win many battles, but Spencer’s character is letting her, so assured is he of winning the war. Here, she confounds him by being smart, and competent, and independent. She isn’t forced to lower herself, and he doesn’t beat her, they choose each other. I see the seeds of the Ephron daughters in their parents’ work. It’s startlingly modern. He is a computer pioneer from MIT, but she is probably smarter, if she’d been able to get the same education. She embroiders, and wants to be married, but has no intention of giving up her job when she does. They eat together twice, and he provides the food both times. This couple will be a team, rather than a breadwinner and helpmeet.
Gig Young plays a long-time beau of Katharine’s, and mostly he just sweeps around saying all the terrible things we don’t want to hear Spencer say, and we’re glad she finds Spencer so she wasn’t stuck with poor old Gig. Her choice is really between a traditional marriage and a modern one.
Joan Blondell plays Katharine’s assistant who is no better than she should be, but damn fine at her job. Joan is excellent, as she always is, and I hope we get the chance to pay her some attention in some of her other supporting roles in future Feel Good Features.
Where on Earth do I find this movie?
Well, gentle viewer, it’s streaming on Netflix, you may rent it through Amazon Prime for $3.99, buy the digital download for $9.99, or buy the DVD for $8.87, also from Amazon. If you’re ok with used, you can buy copies through Alibris.com and find copies for just a dollar or two, choosing a local seller will save you on shipping. Sadly, I have no ideas for international viewers, fingers crossed that you can find it.
Saturday, August 5, at 8pm Eastern (adjust to your time zone), we’ll meet under the hashtag #FGFLT (Feel Good Features Live Tweet), to watch along and marvel at all the ways times have changed, and all the ways they haven’t.
I know many of my friends aren’t familiar with many old movies, was this post helpful? Are you curious about actors, directors, and writers? Give me feedback, so I can tailor these posts to what you, gentle viewer, want to know. Leave a comment, tweet at me, send a carrier pigeon, or a semaphore, if you know it.