Desk Set Blu-ray Review

There were few better onscreen pairs than Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Whether they’re bickering and fighting or kissing and hugging, they were always perfect together. 1957’s DESK SET is no exception.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set

Hepburn (who had one Oscar at that point) is Bunny Watson, the head of the Federal Broadcasting Network’s research department. Call them during office hours and you can find out all about how Eskimos kiss and the batting average of Ty Cobb. Enter Richard Sumner (Tracy, who had two Oscars), a methods engineer tasked to scope out the space and make its merging with another company (which FBN’s employees are unaware of) easier. The merger will introduce “electronic brains” (that is, computers) to the workplace and threaten the jobs of the girls of FBN’s department (Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall).

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set

It’s easy to imagine audiences making bets with their fellow moviegoers as to when exactly Watson and Sumner will confirm their mutual love. After all, there really isn’t all that much standing in the way of a romance. Sure, Bunny has a boyfriend, an executive named Mike (Gig Young, who had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar five years prior for COME FILL THE CUP; he would win for THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?), but he isn’t exactly eager to put a ring on it (perhaps he’s hoping for one of her colleagues?).

DESK SET is, like so many romantic comedies of the era, predictable and by-the-books. The leads will play on opposite sides for the better part of the runtime, do their required flirting and wind up together before the credits roll so audiencescan go home feeling good.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set

But the screenplay—which was written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, whose most famous product isn’t CAROUSEL or THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS, but Nora Ephron, who would go on to write WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… and direct SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE—still has its moments. Aside from having a concept that seems ahead of its time, it also features a number of strong back-and-forths between Tracy and Hepburn. An example: “You live alone.” “How do you know that?” “Because you have one brown sock and one blue.” It’s lines like that and scenes like the playful interrogation on the roof that make this one of the actors’ better pairings.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set

That’s not to say it stands out in the long list of 1950s romantic comedies—Billy Wilder’s (SABRINA and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH among them) were undoubtedly the best-written ones, while ROMAN HOLIDAY had an ending with guts—but it’s still a nice and sweet little movie from Walter Lang, whose major works prior include STATE FAIR and THE KING AND I.

DESK SET was Tracy and Hepburn’s eight pairing, following 1942’s WOMAN OF THE YEAR, 1943’s KEEPER OF THE FLAME, 1945’s WITHOUT LOVE, 1947’s THE SEA OF GRASS, 1948’s STATE OF THE UNION, 1949’s ADAM’S RIB and 1952’s PAT AND MIKE. It also turned out to be their penultimate pairing, as only 1967’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER followed.


Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Tracy and Hepburn’s first color pairing is treated to a very nice high-definition transfer. This CinemaScope film shot by the Oscar-winning Leon Shamroy, is full of color and this Blu-ray showcases every tone and hue with wonderful clarity. Contrast and details are also strong throughout.

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0; Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0. Subtitles in English and Spanish. Considering DESK SET is a dialogue-heavy romantic comedy, there is little to impress except for consistently clear lines.

Commentary by actors Dina Merrill and John Lee: Merrill and Lee offer a decent enough commentary, although neither offers as many tidbits regarding the movie’s production as fans may have hoped for.

Fox Movietone News: Designers Inspired for New Creation by Film DESK SET (0:59): This very short piece looks at the costumes of DESK SET.

Original Theatrical Trailer


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