Desk Set (1957) – A first-rate romantic comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn

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The effervescent Katharine Hepburn and the sophisticated Spencer Tracy starred together in this sparkling and extremely delightful romantic comedy, which marked their eight collaboration on-screen pairing that began with 1942’s Woman of the Year. Tracy and Hepburn were lovers both on and off-screen and the relationship lasted 26 years, even though Tracy was still married to an actress named Louise who remained his wife till his death. By the time Tracy and Hepburn starred in this film, he was approaching his 60s and Hepburn was well into her middle-age. But the remarkable chemistry and energy of these two make you believe that they are still just a couple of 30-yr olds that have just entered the acting business.

Tracy plays Richard Sumner, an engineer behind the EMIRAC, one of the early computers designed with the intention of reducing the workload of Bunny Watson (Katherin Hepburn) and her team who runs the reference department of the Federal Broadcasting Network. If callers have a question, they call up the department and she and her team would instantly come up with the answer. Bunny is an incredibly smart and witty woman equipped with a high IQ and good observational skills. She can calculate the number of letters in your name the minute you tell it to her and she can tell whether you are wearing mismatched socks without looking down. Amazing, isn’t she? And did I say she has a good sense of humor? She is just the kind of woman I would instantly fall for. Anyway, Bunny and her female friends are concerned that this new computer might replace the human staff soon and they’ll be out of a job.

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But Bunny is optimistic and she is confident that a computer isn’t capable of doing what they are capable and this is actually proved much later in the film. Of course this computer doesn’t have the capablities of the computers that we use today. Anyway, enough of that. The conflict between man and machine is not actually what the film is really about. Even a first grader can tell you that this just sets up an excuse for Tracy and Hepburn to fall in love with each other. But this is no run-of-the-mill romantic comedy either. You might find yourself asking how they can fall in love with each other without the customary multiple dating scenes, you know, going out for a cup of coffee, calling each other constantly etc. Maybe all these things really happen but are not shown to us. Instead, we get a bunch of great scenes like when Tracy is interviewing Hepburn for the first time and we get to see what a super-intelligent woman she is.

And then there is another scene where Hepburn invites Tracy to her apartment and while they both are having dinner, her actual boyfriend who she has been seeing for around 7 years (but with zero chemistry) , shows up and what transpires is not something that you see in other romantic comedies. The way they all respond is a delight to watch because only Tracy and Hepburn know that they two aren’t really dating each other. When Hepburn’s boyfriend starts to show signs of throwing a tantrum, Hepburn improvises and it’s a really brilliant scene. Well, I should say that Hepburn is brilliant throughout the film and so is Tracy. I am actually glad that I saw this on Christmas day because I happened to be watching it for the first time and what do you know, the story takes place around Christmas. So, I think I should also say that it makes for one terrific Christmas film.

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