The best of the nine films that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made in tandem were romantic battle-of-the-sexes comedies (Adam's RIb, Pat and Mike) written expressly for them by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Adaptations of stage hits contributed to some of their memorable film output, too, like Without Love and State of the Union, but perhaps Desk Set is the most successful of those theater transfers. The coupling of the two was so strong that they could mold just about any characters to fit the very unique screen chemistry that they shared even if they hadn't been written especially for them, and Desk Set emerges as a smart and funny romantic comedy with some sweetly ironic comments about big business and the changing technologies inserted into the mix.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) heads the reference and research department of the Federal Broadcasting Company, but when she meets Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the inventor of a computer whose technological wizardry rivals even Bunny’s amazing memory and logic, she and her staff become alarmed that if the computer is installed in their department, they’ll be out of jobs. Working closely with Bunny brings Richard closer to the wry, clever department head, but he’s got competition from Mike Cutler (Gig Young) who’s been dating Bunny for seven years without getting close to matrimony. With Sumner keeping quiet about exactly what his computer will contribute to the reference department, everyone’s on edge as the Christmas holidays approach.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The script by Phoebe and Henry Ephron is based on the hit play The Desk Set by William Marchant which starred Shirley Booth on Broadway. Cast to perfection and directed with smooth and professional ease by Walter Lang, Desk Set remains rather stagebound even with a couple of changes of venue (a hilarious rooftop lunch scene where Bunny initially dazzles Richard with her amazing memory and uncanny reasoning ability, a fun sojourn to Bunny’s apartment where Mike catches Bunny and Richard enjoying an evening meal after getting caught in a downpour). But none of that matters because the ensemble playing alongside Tracy and Hepburn is first class all the way led by Joan Blondell as the research department’s second-in-command, Dina Merrill as the staff’s wry wit, and Sue Randall as the innocent new kid on the block, all of whom throw out facts and figures during the film that add greatly to the realism of the research environment setting. The principal research department set is enormous even by Cinemascope standards but has the look of reality to it, too, and adding the room-sized computer (how far we’ve come with technology! And this is one prop Fox got its money’s worth out of: present in countless television shows and films) even makes the set seem that much more gigantic.
But it’s the smooth and effortless playing by Spencer Tracy and (especially) Katharine Hepburn (whose role seems twice as large as Tracy’s and one that seems just as believable pitched toward her intelligent side as her athletic prowess was emphasized in Pat and Mike) that makes Desk Set a must-see. They share such easy camaraderie (see the quiet moment between them during the lengthy Christmas sequence where Sumner tells Bunny his “sad” love story or Tracy’s ability to make her helplessly hysterical at the conclusion of the rainy night sequence) to know that their pairing was one of those cinematic miracles that comes along very infrequently in movies. Gig Young has the thankless role of the slightly egotistical louse which he always excels at, and Bunny’s three assistants all play with ease and surety. Neva Patterson as Sumner’s aide who meets a hostile reception once the computer is installed gets some prime moments of outraged hilarity while Harry Ellerbe as the company gossipmonger gives perhaps the most theatrical performance in the film though not without some earned laughs of his own. Ida Moore owns a quaint running gag as the company’s original symbolic mascot with a hilarious climactic topper.
The Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a sharp and very clear picture, one that allows the viewer for the first time to see the weave in some of Hepburn’s costumes (there aren’t real close-ups here in order to study facial details and hair textures). Color is strong throughout with accurate skin tones all the way through. Black levels aren’t always the deepest (a couple of black costumes seem a shade or two lighter than the letterbox bars), but that’s the only real objection in this outstanding, artifact-free transfer. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix accurately replicates the mono sound experience that was heard in theaters of the era without any age-related hiss or crackle to distract the listener. Dialogue is always crystal clear and is never compromised by Cyril Mockridge’s jaunty background score or the occasional sound effect. Occasional use of ADR is noticeable.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historian John Lee and actress Dina Merrill have their separate comments edited together into this commentary track. Lee identifies all the principal players and does some analysis of the film while Merrill reminisces warmly about her Hollywood experiences (not just with this film). Interesting stuff but there are lots of breaks between comments.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Movietone News (0:59, SD): Costume designer Charles LeMaire and some models show off his costume designs for Katharine Hepburn used in the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:19, SD)
An enjoyable if somewhat slight romantic comedy pairing two of Hollywood’s most engaging performers, Desk Set is one of those movies that’s pure pleasure to watch no matter how many times one has seen it. Just studying the way the two stars bounce off each other so adroitly is reason enough to add this one to your home movie collection. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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