Sunday, December 15, 2013

Film Classics of the 20th Century

So far in this series, we've looked at When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

movie montage

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy?  The best acting there may have been Hepburn's post-spinning after Tracy's death of their alleged love affair.

Onscreen, they rarely had chemistry.

Adam's Rib is annoying and overpraised.  It exists as an antidote to the rank sexism of Woman of the Year but it's a polemic posing as a picture.  Their last film together, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, was marred by the fact that Katharine Hepburn was unbelievable as Tracy's wife or even a human (she repeats that non--performance in On Golden Pond when she comes off as a cranky camp counselor and not Henry Fonda's wife or Jane Fonda's mother).  Sea of Grass is a long yawn.  State of the Union has some promise but there are only two films with this team that stand up and that's Pat and Mike and Desk Set.

1957's Desk Set was the first color film they made together.  Walter Lang directed the Henry and Phoebe Ephron script about the computerization of the Federal Broadcasting Network.


Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) runs the reference department and supervises Sylvia (Dina Merrill), Ruthie (Sue Randall) and Peg (Joan Blondell).  Joan Blondell gives one of her especially strong performances in this film and the friendship of Peg and Bunny is one of the reasons this film works.  In most Hepburn films, she's a pathetic loser without any friends -- all the more easier for her to be swept away by whatever guy pops into her orbit?


The scene where Bunny and Peg get drunk at the Christmas party and evaluate whether the man who drove around the block three times was scoping out Peg or looking for a place to park is a mini-classic.  As is the scene where Hepburn begins singing "Night and Day."


Gig Young plays Mike Cutler who has been dating Bunny for seven years with Bunny waiting for a proposal that Peg fears is never coming.


Richard Sumner (Tracy) shows up at the reference department one day.


He measures the space for a computer.  Bunny and her workers fear they're about to be replaced by a computer.

But first you've got scenes of Hepburn and Tracy teasing out sexual tension and chemistry.



As the network computerizes various departments, the computer in payroll sends out pink slips.


But it was a mistake, a computer error.

And with that straightened out, what's there to do but kiss?


This is a film classic.  Desk Set was down graded in real time as people pretended that Woman of the Year wasn't sexist and that Adam's Rib was worth repeat viewings. Desk Set should be must viewing this time of year.  It's a warm hearted film with a Christmas background deriving comedic value from office politics. Hepburn plays a functioning woman -- not a lonely old maid spinster which had become her hallmark (see Summertime, The Rainmaker, The African Queen, etc.).  Hepburn's Bunny has worked at the network for eleven years, she's got her best friend Peg and Mike's interested in her all before Tracy shows up.

That's not a minor point when you consider all the humiliation heaped on her characters in her post-RKO periods.

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