Desk Set (Lang, 1957) arrived on the cusp of the information age, when the American office was poised to be transformed by room-sized machines. In this “situation comedy” is the corporation run by the women answering the phones or by the men flying off to meetings?
This question of agency and power may not seem at first glance to be one that could be handled well in a romantic comedy, especially for the film to retain any humor, but this deft maneuvering was something that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy specialized in, and why I continue to be attracted to them and their body of work.
Desk Set was their eighth of nine pairings on film, and it is the film of theirs that lately I return to again and again. That’s not to say that I don’t also adore their earlier films, but I grow more and more fond of these characters and this pairing the more I watch, and the older I get. I edge ever closer to the age of the actors and the characters every year, of course. I also better understand and appreciate their characters’ motivations and the actors’ talents. Maybe it is because I get more sentimental as the years go on and their decades-long relationship and the mythos surrounding it allows me to imbue the film with a rosy glow.
Whether I fill in blanks that others might see as more gaping, it is true at least that the characters, because of their age and the time they live, are fighting different battles than they would have ten years before: to remain relevant, to remain employed, to choose a partner or grow older alone.
How lucky we are to watch these two play off of each other, to have found an equal in the other. And because of my specific circumstance, I know how lucky I am to be able to say the same thing of my own situation.
What you’ll find in this episode: why age matters, what a lunch at CBS cost in 1957, and some of our other favorite screen couples.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out Desk Set on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Adam’s Rib.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Broadcast News.
Katharine reads a letter to Spence.
A fascinating and unexpected timeline of computers.