July 21, 2009

Desk Set (1957)

My Ratings:
Production Design (wardrobe/hair+makeup & set design & milieu) = 7.5
Performances/Direction = 9

Desk Set is one of my favorite films because it portrays women in a very favorable light, showing that they can be intelligent, educated, and capable workers in an era dominated by knuckle-headed Doris Day stereotypes. Although, I suppose it would be difficult to have a film starring Katherine Hepburn that didn't possess a feminist undercurrent to it...

Speaking of Hepburn, her character "Bunny Watson" heads up the reference department of a TV network company. She and her other three female coworkers spend their days answering questions telephoned in by the general public. Why do Eskimos rub their noses on each other? What's the highest lifetime batting average? Think of it as "Google search" with actual people on the other end going to look up the answers for you.


Then in walks "Mr. Sumner" (Spencer Tracy), who the network has hired to install what was back then the notion of a computer in an attempt to increase the efficiency and convenience of the reference department. It's the age-old debate of man vs. machine.

I have come to replace you with a computer! Muahaha!


Here he is, measuring the space because back then computers took up entire rooms.

Loving their outfits. Yes, that IS Joan Blondell in the middle!

Loving: the button detail on the back of the tweed skirt (girl in the middle).

Here's all four of the women, in Bunny's office, discussing Sumner's motives. Sumner was under strict orders from the higher ups to not tell the women about the computer. Just that he was sent there to monitor them for a while.


I know Bunny's office is really outdated but for some reason I am charmed by it...it reminds me of the classrooms in my old elementary school. You know, the cheap wood wainscotting, the green 1950s desk chairs that the teachers always had...and of course, the pull-down world map.

Despite efforts, the "computer" is eventually installed.

Love the hot pink and black ensemble! It works for some reason.

Loving the light yellow sweater belted with the brown tweed skirt (right, background).

Unfortunately the gorgeous green gown that Peg is holding for Bunny never got to be worn. I would've loved to see it shown off.

More tweed. This is what my Mom wears on a daily basis.

Christmas party. Loving the purple dress in the middle with the amazing pleated waist (very figure flattering!).

Loving the red coat with the long red gloves.

Ah! The coat has a dark green lining. A bit too Christmasy for my taste though.

Note: Bunny's shiny pewter high-collared dress with the tie-waist. Most of Hepburn's dresses were cut like this one (in other films as well). I wonder if she specified this preference?

In their coats.

I'm not going to ruin the ending for you so instead of talking more about the story, I'll shift over to show you Bunny's adorable one-bedroom apartment. Here is the exterior of her brownstone.

Small entryway, equipped with a hat/coat rack. It opens into the main room/living room. Love that marble fireplace.

The bedroom is just off the living room, separated by a rather wide door frame. Also the folding shutter doors were a design good idea in that small space.

Set up a small table, pull up some chairs, and you've got yourself a dining area in front of a cozy fireplace.

More of the bedroom.

Love the tall, wooden window shutters! The extra ceiling height makes the small space seem less claustrophobic.

The kitchen. Not very impressive but functional.

So there you have it. A thoroughly enjoyable film in beautiful technicolor, backed by a great script and a charming cast. Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn were brilliant as expected. Actually, this was their eighth film together (out of nine) and it's really fun to see their off-screen chemistry translated on-screen. I also liked how the adaptation did not make it obvious that it was derived from a play. Sometimes films that are too obviously play-ish annoy me. This one was perfect.


Thank you for doing this movie. It's also one of my favorites. I also think of this whenever someone asks me what I do at my job. I'm an archives assistant dealing with historic homes and sites and get questions about things that we only have on paper and are not accessible online, very antiquated. I do a lot of putting them on hold while I look it up in the stacks, just like Bunny and co.

Isaspacey - your job sounds amazing. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of growing up and working at a job like yours, much to my parents' dismay. I wanted to be that smart "Bunny"-esque librarian type who is always surrounded by old books and forgotten information. I grew up and became something else entirely but part of me still harbors a deep respect for people who do work in those fields (and who love it).

Your blog is truly wonderful. So ambitious and informative. Thank you for all the details!

I adore this one too. Although it's hard for me to not enjoy a Heburn-Tracy collaboration....with the exception of "Without Love."

Margaux - thanks for the compliments! I haven't seen Without Love so now I'm curious!

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