The eighth big-screen pairing of legends Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Desk Set was the first color movie the duo would make together. Fox’s CinemaScope film is a light comedy with a dash of Fifties’ romance, based off a popular play by William Marchant. The script for the 1957 movie was ahead of its time, working in issues about women in the workforce and the increasing threat of automation to workers’ jobs. As smart as the script is with its sharply-drawn characters and comical set-ups, it is the easygoing screen chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn which elevates the material beyond ordinary fare.

Bunny Watson (Katherine Hepburn) heads the research department and reference library at a broadcast television network. Smart as a whip and possessing an unusually good memory, Bunny is the de facto boss to the three female researchers under her in the department. When someone at the network needs to know a factoid or a specific piece of information, Bunny’s crew will quickly come up with the answer. Her personal life is a different matter and much less successful. Bunny’s boyfriend Mike Cutler (Gig Young) is a rising executive at the network. The suave and debonair Mike keeps stringing Bunny along, having dated her for nearly seven years without a proposal. The situation is ripe for another man to swoop in and divert Bunny’s attention.

Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) arrives at Bunny’s department as an unassuming efficiency expert. Told to keep his ultimate goals hidden from the gossiping workers in the research department, Sumner is secretly a computer scientist working on EMIRAC for the company. EMIRAC is a huge main-frame computer intended to automate and replace some of the company’s processes. Sumner is one of the leading experts in his field, an intellectual with a keen mind and quiet personality. He also happens to be a bachelor with an obvious interest in Bunny.

Desk Set is at its best when Tracy and Hepburn are matching wits. Hepburn’s Bunny is one of the smartest female characters seen in a Hollywood film of this period, clearly capable of managing her department of all women while keeping up with Sumner’s prodding questions. While the eventual romantic conclusion is never really in doubt for their two characters, Tracy and Hepburn have such good chemistry on-screen together that the fairly predictable climax is more an annoyance than a true negative.

Like so many other successful romantic comedies, it is more about the journey than the eventual destination.  Desk Set included issues related to the growing role of computers in the workplace and the fear they would eliminate the common office worker, a notion that seems almost quaint today. It’s not their best movie together but Desk Set is an enjoyable offering for the classic duo’s many fans.

Movie ★★★★☆

Big smile @ 20:43

Desk Set was a CinemaScope film. Like many other movies shot with that early widescreen process, it displays some minor deficiencies called CinemaScope mumps. Leon Shamroy’s cinematography had to deal with the wide-angle lenses of Cinemascope like so many other Fox movies of its era. The mumps in Desk Set’s photography appear to have been corrected for the most part in this new film transfer, though one will notice a slight stretching and softness on the right side of the frame for many scenes. I only point it out because the left side of its picture looks much sharper in comparison, a problem likely inherent to the film negative.

The film-like transfer is a fine showing for a Cinemascope movie. One might detect a small teal push to the color palette but flesh-tones and primary colors are accurately rendered. Some minor halos appear but are so low in amplitude they don’t prove distracting. There are no serious questions about the film’s overall grain structure. If Fox did tinker with the film using digital noise reduction, it was lightly used. Per their excellent technical specifications, the AVC video encode handles the entire movie without a single notable artifact. They always go above and beyond in that regard, putting the 103-minute film on a BD-50 and maximizing its space.

The film elements are in outstanding condition, lacking any notable damage. This is a clean print, free of both dust and debris. The 1080P presentation has a very moderate contrast with decent black levels. Shadow delineation is better than average, as many fine gradations in the darker suits are visible on a calibrated display. Clarity is very high for an older film, though Desk Set’s sharpness is mildly inconsistent across the entire 2.35:1 frame.

Video ★★★★☆

Desk Set’s original theatrical mix is preserved in a fine 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The romantic comedy is largely driven by snappy dialogue, which comes through in ordinary fidelity. Considering the sonic limitations of Fifties’ mono recordings, Desk Set has a fairly rich sound that perfectly balances the score, dialogue and Foley work. The audio master must be in very good shape for this level of quality.

A mono Spanish Dolby Digital dub is presented at 192 kbps. The optional subtitles include English SDH, Spanish and French. They display in a white font that remains inside the 2.35:1 frame.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Fox has carried over the supplements found on the original DVD release.

Fox Movietone News: Designers Inspired For New Creation by Film ‘Desk Set’ (00:59 in SD) – A brief glimpse into another era from this vintage newsreel.

Theatrical Trailer (02:19 in SD) – The original theatrical trailer is presented in unrestored SD resolution.

Commentary By Actress Dina Merrill and film historian John Lee – This is a strange amalgam of a commentary, recorded separately and mashed together for one continuous, if spotty, commentary. Dina Merrill’s comments are mostly related to her career in Hollywood as an actress and often recalls personal details that go far beyond this movie. John Lee fills in the gap with notes on each actor and some production background, though it is spoken in a robotic manner at times.

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


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