Friday, April 27, 2012

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy: Desk Set, Take One

Walter Lang's Desk Set (1957) is nestled somewhere between his films The King and I and Snow White and the Three Stooges. Desk Set revolves around Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) and her crack reference librarian crew at a large network broadcasting corporation in Manhattan at the point of first contact with the Man Machine: Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), herald of the computer age. Aside from the horribly generic 1950s movie soundtack (luckily it fades into the background after the first five or ten minutes), this is a terrific movie, certainly pertinent to the 21st century in more ways than one.

In Desk Set, a proto-Mad Men milieu entertains -- free-flowing drinks, smoking and various other antics at work -- while observations about technology and social interaction really make you ponder. "This is our playpen," Bunny quips. Enter the Electronic Brain. Turns out it can answer basic routine questions (including math problems), but not complex "fuzzy" ones. The reference librarians can better "associate certain things with certain . . . other things," as Bunny puts it.

Desk Set has the feel of a play because it's essentially a filmed version of William Marchant's The Desk Set: A Comedy in Three Acts (1955). What's remarkable is how current the set-up is inside the corporation: payroll, the "pink slip," unemployment insurance, Blue Cross, the legal department, computers -- all of it. In New York City, at least, the "desk set" and the "jet set" were already in place nearly sixty years ago.

Today's Rune: Partnership.  


Luma Rosa said...

Not watched the movie, but it seemed that the concern of the past is the same today!
I spent a long time no see, organizing the "Bookcrossing blogger" were more than thousand books flying for nature:)
Saudades! Beijus

jodi said...

Erik, the more things change, the more they stay the same! How could you ever put 'The King and I' on the same page as 'The Three Stooges'???? Crazy guy....