Desk Set (1957)

Katharine Hepburn as Bunny Watson
Spencer Tracy as Mike Cutler

Directed by Walter Lang
Screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron

Running Time: 103 min.
Not Rated

Ah. Okay, I get it now.

I’ve never been inclined towards nostalgia. I’m one of those killjoys who brings up trifles like mortality rates and disenfranchisement whenever someone starts a conversation with “If you could travel back to any historical period…” I can’t help it. No matter how bad the here and now gets, I know that because of who I am, any previous point in history would be much worse, even within the relatively tiny period after the invention of eyeglasses and indoor plumbing.

Then again, there’s this:

Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set

I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.

Meet Bunny Watson (yes, that’s her name, and unlike last week, there will be no snickering). Bunny is the head librarian at a television network, where she spends her days answering various entertaining reference inquiries—unlike real reference librarians, who mostly direct people to the bathroom. She leads a brilliant team of kicky career gals whose lives are going just swell until the appearance of an efficiency expert named Mike Cutler (played by Tracy), who is looking to outfit the office with one of those newfangled computers.

This is Hollywood’s perfectly appointed, implausibly WASP-ish New York of the 1950s, full of spacious apartments and champagne office parties. It’s a world of pearl earrings and floating islands, and perhaps a time and place where nearly everything worth knowing can be contained within one moderately extraordinary human brain.

The shake-up to Bunny’s world is two-fold. Not only does she worry that the computer’s installation will mean lay-offs for her and her staff, but meeting Mike nurtures her growing dissatisfaction with a stagnated long-term relationship. Mike and Bunny woo with wit and subtlety in what is undoubtedly the most satisfying and mature romance I’ve seen in a movie for a long time.

I can’t remember the last time I watched a romantic comedy starring actors in their 50s in which their age was not part of the pitch, but only served to make for richer and more meaningfully confident characters. For that matter, I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that put anyone under thirty at the forefront of a technological revolution. These novelties alone might have made the movie worth watching, but the light and clever comedy of the writing combined with Hepburn and Tracy’s chemistry left me sighing like a bookish schoolgirl…

…and daydreaming of a world where any librarian could afford an NYC apartment like Bunny’s.

This movie is recommended for anyone who loves smart comedies of error, 1950s fashion, ENIAC, rooftop lunches, and a good glass of bubbly.


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