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Buy from Amazon

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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Desk Set (1957)

Bunny: Frightening. Gave me the feeling that maybe, just maybe, people were a little bit outmoded.
Sumner: Wouldn't surprise me if they stopped making 'em.

- Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 02, 2004

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell
Other Stars: Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Harry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Merry Anders
Director: Walter Lang

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild innuendo)
Run Time: 01h:43m:28s
Release Date: May 04, 2004
UPC: 024543115649
Genre: romantic comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-B+ B+

DVD Review

Ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, loss of jobs to automation has always been a threat to the working class. With computerization this effect has only snowballed. This romantic comedy, based on the stage play The Desk Set by William Marchant, uses the Tracy-Hepburn chemistry to make comic points about such redundancy and the fears related to it.

Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) is the head of the research department of the Federal Broadcasting Company. But things take a disturbing turn as efficiency expert Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) starts nosing around the division. When they discover he has developed the electronic brain EMMERAC, which threatens to replace them all, the women of the reference bureau strike back. Matters are complicated by the romantic triangle between the two leads and up-and-coming executive Mike Cutler (Gig Young), longtime beau of Bunny.

There are two setpieces featuring Tracy and Hepburn that really stand out in this film: a rooftop lunch and the demonstration of EMMARAC. The first, as Sumner attempts to test Bunny's skills of observation and analysis, sparkles with their interactions. The testing of the computer pays off nicely all the tension that's been building throughout, with Hepburn gleefully declaiming Victorian poetry in mockery of the computer as Tracy does a great slow burn. These first-rate and highly entertaining pieces are let down a little by the unfortunately pat and incongruous ending.

The supporting cast does the leads proud. The three women in the research pool, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, and Sue Randall, give the impression of a unit that's been working comfortably together for a long time. EMMERAC's nervously edgy keeper, Miss Warriner, is rendered broadly but humorously by Neva Patterson. Gig Young's slightly smarmy cluelessness works very well. Director Walter Lang, fresh off The King and I, demonstrates a knack for composition in the Cinemascope frame, with both attractive and meaningful arrangements onscreen throughout the picture, not to mention good use of split-screens.

The resulting comedy is both amusing and affecting without overt sentimentality. Trivia buffs will enjoy the appreciation of people who carry tons of useless information around in their heads. But business executives probably should be cautioned that the film's 1950s attitude towards office romance would probably result in sexual harassment class action suits if tried today.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen Cinemascope frame looks very nice, though a trifle grainy. Color is vivid and black levels quite deep. Shadow detail is moderately good, but edge enhancement and ringing is present, slightly spoiling an otherwise filmlike experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and 2.0 mono English tracks are provided. The stereo track mostly keeps the dialogue in the center, though there are some occasional moments of directionality to give a broad soundstage. The mono track sounds quite good as well. Both are fairly free of noise and hiss, though an occasional crackle makes its presence known. The Spanish mono track sounds like it was recorded underwater, with a murky quality that would be difficult to listen to. The grade applies to the English tracks only; the Spanish would merit a D-.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring All About Eve, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, An Affair to Remember, The Seven Year Itch
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Dina Merrill and historian John Lee
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:57m:18s

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
Extras Review: The extras here aren't quite as copious or outstanding as we're used to seeing on the Fox Studio Classics series. The principal one is a commentary featuring Dina Merrill (Neva Patterson, though listed on the back cover, never appears), with intervening technical remarks by historian John Lee. Merrill has some amusing anecdotes about this picture, and also goes into her experiences with such directors as Altman, Minnelli, and Frankenheimer, among others. Unfortunately, the person feeding her questions is edited out, so it's not always apparent who she's talking about. Even with the two of them, there are some extended silent patches, which seems odd given the fact much of the time the discussions aren't scene-specific.

Other materials include a Movietone News segment (58s) about a fashion show inspired by the film, and no doubt engineered by the studio. A gallery of over 20 behind-the-scenes stills is the only other pertinent extra besides the trailer.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The penultimate Tracy-Hepburn picture proves that they hadn't lost the magic. The transfer's nice, but the extras aren't quite up to the usual standards of this series.

 


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