Desk Set

This is the first year we have included this Hepburn-Tracy romantic comedy in our Christmas watchlist. In fact, I think it’s only the second time I have watched this film from start to finish. As we were looking for Christmas movies set in New York, I recalled that there is an office Christmas party in this film set in a large Manhattan company’s offices. It’s not a raucous or bawdy as the one in The Apartment, but it is still fun. The screenplay is by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, whose daughter Nora wrote When Harry Met Sally, one of our favorite NYC movies.


Spencer Tracy is an efficiency expert who is apparently aiming to computerize a television network’s reference department led by Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn has been waiting for Gig Young to propose for several years as he climbs the company’s executive ladder, but while battling Tracy she is also strangely attracted. Once installed, the new computer system is no match for Hepburn and her staff, and all ends happily.


The film is set in New York, with opening shots of Rockefeller Center.


One of several films with Christmas office parties, which is a pivotal scene in the relationship between Hepburn and Tracy. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is shown while a chorus sings “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Can’t get more Christmasy than that.


Joan Blondell appears in Christmas Eve, another film on our Christmas in NY watchlist. Sue Randall is more familiar as the teacher Miss Landers in TV’s Leave It to Beaver. Ida Moore appears in Good Sam and The Lemon Drop Kid.


Henry and Phoebe Ephron wrote the screenplay for Fred Astaire’s Daddy Long Legs (1955). Interestingly, strains of “Something’s Gotta Give” (the old immovable object/irresistible force song by Johnny Mercer which was sung by Astaire in Daddy Long Legs) can be heard in Desk Set‘s closing scene.


There are many reasons to love any movie with Hepburn and Tracy, but this time we particularly enjoyed hearing the great Kate sing the introductory verse of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” during the office Christmas party. That connected it to the first Christmas movie we watched this year, Lady on a Train, which featured Deanna Durbin singing it in a NY nightclub. And, of course, Fred Astaire was the first to sing that song in his final Broadway show, The Gay Divorce. (The film version’s title was changed to The Gay Divorcee).