Friday, August 9, 2019
Desk Set Finds Charming Yuks In An Office Romance
Desk Set is an odd movie specifically for how the screenplay, penned by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, seems to be delivering two separate storylines that rarely mingle together. The first of these is about the prospect of fancy technology coming in and upending the human employees of a research department while the other storyline is a romantic-comedy about Richard and Bunny gradually becoming enamored with one another. Neither storyline is necessarily bad and the latter storyline is especially enjoyable but it is strange how the pair of plotlines are primarily separate entities throughout Desk Set, it's like someone keeps switching the channel between two different movies whenever it alternates between these storylines.
The plot isn't all that cohesive but at least it delivers plenty of does of amiable comedy, which is what one would most want out of a romantic-comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It's no surprise to learn that Tracy and Hepburn were a real-life married couple for 26 years given that the duo have remarkable chemistry together in Desk Set. This is especially apparent once the two characters become mighty comfortable with each other, which allows Hepburn and Tracy to engage in an easygoing knowing rapport that sees them practically finishing each other's comedic sentences. Richard Sumner and Bunny Watson aren't a silver-screen romantic pairing for the ages but the chemistry between the two characters do make them fun to watch.
Their chemistry especially shines in the funniest sequence of Desk Set which concerns Bunny inviting Richard up to her place for dinner during a thunderstorm. One awkward difficulty after another emerges in this scene as Bunny has to explain to new arrivals to her apartment what exactly her co-worker is doing in her home wearing nothing but her on-again/off-again boyfriends bathrobe. It's a hysterical scene making great use of Hepburn's comedic exasperation to all of the unexpected difficulties she encounters while Tracy manages to nail his comedic delivery of the bawdiest line of dialogue in the whole movie (how did that get past the Hayes Code board?!?)
This scene, as well as the entirety of Desk Set, makes sure to take advantage of the fact that this was one of a vast number of films in the 1950s and 1960s shot in a wider CinemaScope aspect ratio (specifically, here it's a 2:35 : 1 aspect ratio) Desk Set is a more low-key production than many of the more epic films of this era that utilized CinemaScope, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't take advantage of its unique aspect ratio. On the contrary, much of the films visual language is informed by the fact that it has an expansive frame to play around with and the production design especially seems intricately designed to take advantage of all the space afforded by the Cinemascope aspect ratio.
In its wider aspect ratio, one can truly appreciate all the intricate details found in the multi-floor research department and its endless shelves of books and every set in the film has a similarly large-scale quality to it. Even the bird-infested rooftop Richard and Bunny have their first lunch together on has an expansive nature to it that seems designed to show off how much space there is in a single frame of Desk Set. Luckily, director Walter Lang doesn't just lean on a wider aspect ratio as a technological feat that can exclusively dazzle audiences. After all, it's the more intimate charms of Hepburn & Tracy's chemistry that really make Desk Set a charming hoot.