Desk Set (1957)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Desk Set</strong> (1957)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) As an Information Technology professional, I have a bigger interest than most in the place of computers in movies, and Desk Set manages to bring together that interest with another one—seeing Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn playing off each other in a romantic comedy. Set at the dawn of corporate IT, this film takes the burgeoning anxieties of the era and recasts them as fuel for a workplace comedy with a big dose of romance. As the story begins, Hepburn is the manager of a research library for a TV network—her staff can answer any question anyone could have. But in walks Tracy as a mysterious eccentric eventually revealed to be an “efficiency expert”—tasked with bringing a computer in the building to complement the work of the research staff. This being a comedy from the early days of computing, madness ensues. In one of Desk Set’s funniest scenes, the quasi-magical computer ends up firing everyone in the building, something swiftly ignored as the staff learns to get along with their computerized assistant. Said computer ends up taking over most of the set and the plot, leading to a high-energy finale. In the meantime, we do get some good romantic sparring between the whip-smart Hepburn and the ever-affable Tracy. It’s not a great movie, nor is it a great romance, but it does work well enough as a comedy. The dialogue is nice, and the increasing absurdity of the film does work in its favour as it hits its finale. The romantic plot is never surprising, but the bits and pieces along the way are fun. This is later-day Tracy/Hepburn (she wears her gray hair consistently pinned back), but the first of their movies shot in colour. Still, Desk Set is fun and fun is what it aims for. Contemporary IT professionals should get quite a kick out of the mid-1950s look at the potential and perils of computers in the workplace.

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