Desk Set (1957)

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were always best on screen when they got to lock horns. In their eighth (and first in color) of nine films together, they do so memorably with Tracy as an efficiency expert assigned to bring Hepburn’s TV research department into the computer age. Tracy’s computer, EMERAC, was based on the first general purpose computers, ENIAC and the UNIVAC, and IBM provided technical assistance on the film. It all seemed rather far-fetched when William Marchant’s play opened on Broadway in 1955 with Shirley Booth in the lead but by the time the play made it to the screen, automation was beginning to replace office workers around the nation. Originally Booth was to have starred in Marchant’s own adaptation, but Twentieth Century- Fox ultimately hired Phoebe and Henry Ephron to write the screenplay, with Henry producing. They built up the efficiency expert’s part in order to re-team Tracy and Hepburn in their first film together away from MGM. The battling stars weren’t the whole show. Gig Young took a secondary role just to work with them and performs expertly in the kind of “other man” role that would become his stock-in-trade. Joan Blondell drops wisecracks as effortlessly as she had at Warner Bros. in the ’30s, and socialite-turned-actress Dina Merrill makes her film debut as one of Hepburn’s assistants.

(d. Walter Lang, 103m, Digital)

In attendance: Tara McNamara