There are lots of lovely Christmas romances on film, including The Shop Around the Corner, Love Actually, and While You Were Sleeping; many other holiday classics include secondary romance plots (It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St. Louis, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife). Today’s very special Christmas Eve edition of A Fine Romance Friday is going another direction, however, a more Hepburn and Tracy direction, specifically to Walter Lang’s underrated 1957 film Desk Set.
Desk Set takes place in a totally fantasy world in which Hepburn’s television studio research library is being threatened by a new fangled invention, Tracy’s brand new computer. See, something like that would never happen in real life. Anyhow, Hepburn and Tracy play refreshingly middle-aged, smart, career-driven people who banter and bicker, reveal vulnerabilities and attractions, all while navigating a changing world.
Hepburn has gone about as far as a woman of her time could go, which is to the head of small department with no further promotions in sight, and into the arms of a long-term boyfriend, a sniveling mid-level executive who doesn’t intend to propose and isn’t half-worthy of her. She’s a woman in need of the feminist revolution. Tracy, who has been so wrapped up in his work that he’s neglected to develop any social skills, bruises his way in, neglecting to be honest about the corporate changes at the studio and his technological innovation and setting up the Big Misunderstandings of the third act.
And it does feel like an act. The material’s stage roots are evident, Tracy isn’t half as convincing as an engineer as Hepburn is as librarian, and the computer, when it arrives, is amusing as hell. But Hepburn and Tracy are always magic together on screen and the two big holiday set pieces–one involving a sort of clown car on Thanksgiving and the other a wild office Christmas party–are worth the price of admission. Behold a marvelously drunk Hepburn and be grateful.
So among my many Christmas comfort viewings, I make room for Desk Set.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!