N.B. I’m watching classic romantic comedies along with the wonderful women of Popcorn Dialogues. CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS!
I had high hopes for Desk Set. Not only does it star Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, but it was written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, parents of Nora (writer of my favourite romantic comedy of all time, When Harry Met Sally). And I enjoyed it, I did. Hepburn (as Bunny Watson) is wonderful, as (almost) always. Tracy (as Richard Sumner) was fabulous too and they had great chemistry. The supporting cast – particularly Joan Blondell – were great. But, as has been the case with pretty much all of the films we’ve watched so far, I didn’t find it particularly funny or romantic.
It’s witty and it made me smile a few times, but I certainly didn’t even come close to laughing. As for the romance… well I totally bought that they really LIKED each other and probably fancied each other too, but the proposal came completely out of the blue.
I wasn’t impressed with the structure either. There was plenty of time and space for the romance to be built up (the film isn’t exactly plot-heavy) and considering the film is supposed to be about Bunny Watson being replaced by a computer, that aspect was done and dusted in about 15 minutes: “They’ve brought in a computer! We’ve all been sacked! Oh no we haven’t, it was a (computer) error. And the computer can’t actually do our jobs anyway. Don’t worry, everything’s fine.”
For me, it would have worked much better if they’d brought the computer in about half way through so then Bunny would have turned against Richard and perhaps resigned herself to marriage with Mike before finding that Richard had her best interests at heart and realising that she was in love with him (and he with her), before satisfyingly kicking Mike to the kerb.
There are some really good moments though. I love the scene in Bunny’s apartment when she refuses to explain herself to Mike. I just wish there’d been more romance, more comedy and more tension.
My friend Diane Shipley pointed out the parallels with You’ve Got Mail, which is interesting, given that was written by Nora Ephron (as an update of The Shop Around the Corner). In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s job as owner of an independent book shop is threatened by “progress” in the form of a huge chain bookstore with Tom Hanks in charge. You’ve Got Mail plays out in pretty much the way I hoped Desk Set would. You see the developing relationship, before Meg knows that Tom is the man potentially responsible for ruining her livelihood. When she learns the truth, she (and the viewer) believes there’s no future for their relationship. By the ending, you (or at least I) believe in their love story. Of course, the fatal flaw in You’ve Got Mail is that she does lose her bookshop (that beautiful bookshop!*), which is a total bloody travesty, but the structure is still better than that of Desk Set.
Next week: Pillow Talk (one of my favourite films growing up. Hope it still stands up.)
* I’ve been to the You’ve Got Mail bookshop on a New York movie tour. It is, of all things, a Cheese and Antiques shop. (Yes, really.) The tour guide showed us around and said, “Look how much smaller it is inside than it looks in the film! That’s done with clever camera angles.” “Oooooh!” we all said. And then I watched Ephron’s DVD commentary. They only used the exterior of the shop; the interior was done in a studio. Clever camera angles indeed.