Desk Set

Talkie of the Week: Desk Set

USA 1957, 103 minutes, color, 20th Century Fox. Director: Walter Lang, Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, Based on the play by William Marchant. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Harry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Diane Jergens, Merry Anders, Ida Moore and Rachel Stephens.

Plot summary: When the Federal Broadcasting Network hires Richard Sumner to install an “electronic brain”, the head of the reference library fears for the relevance of her department and her very own job.

Desk_Set_1957Review: There are different reasons to pick a movie. The plot may delight you, the director or cast. You may have read the book a film is based on or you simply stumble upon a film on TCM or in the film department of a store. In my case, two reasons apply. First of all, I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as individual performers but as soon as they’re on screen together, my heart skips a beat. And then, so I gladly admit, I scan every store for classic film offers. The second my eyes fell on the sales sticker on Desk Set, a decision had been made to buy this film and enjoy it with a dear old friend. Now although said friend shares my enthusiasm for Miss Hepburn, she isn’t as enamored with Hollywood’s Golden Age as yours truly. So you can imagine her reaction when the film started to address computers and the pros and cons of upgrading the workplace a good 55 years ago. In her defense, she gave the movie a chance and ended up enjoying it despite her initial reservations. I was in love with it the moment I realized this was an adaptation of William Marchant’s play, written by Phoebe and Henry Ehpron who also penned one of my favorite comedies, The Jackpot (starring James Stewart and Barbara Hale). So yes, call me biased when I recommend this film to you but for anyone who’s fond of witty dialog, delicious acting and some depth in comedy, Desk Set is a true gem. To give away the storyline would be a crime, so I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot but this: not everything is what it seems, but you can always count on the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry now shrouded in legend. The film is available on DVD and as instant video. Here’s the trailer for you to judge for yourselves.

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All That Heaven Allows

Talkie of the Week: All That Heaven Allows

USA 1955, 89 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Peg Fenwick, Based on a story by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee. Cast: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Charles Drake, Hayden Rorke, Jacqueline de Wit, Leigh Snowden, Donald Curtis, Alex Gerry, Nestor Paiva, Forrest Lewis, Merry Anders.

Plot summary: Cary is a widowed mother of two grown children. Ron is a young gardener who shows her a life outside of her perfectly conformed life. When they fall in love they are soon confronted with scrutiny and judgment from a society that doesn’t like people to be different.

Review: Originally set up as a reunion movie for Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson after their great success with Magnificent Obsession in 1954, All That Heaven Allows used their chemistry and fame to build up an equally romantic story about two people who are falling in love despite their differences in age and status. Confronted with harsh criticism and rejection from family and friends, Cary Scott (Wyman) and Ron Kirby (Hudson) are forced to realize the impact society has on them and their decisions, turning their lives into misery after trying to adapt to what’s expected of them.

Created as a melodrama, the film may now seem to offer criticism on the restrictions and rules of the 1950s. Douglas Sirk, often overlooked by film critics of his time for making uninteresting, trivial movies, managed to turn a richly dramatic story into a feast for the eye. Artistically referred to in Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven in 2002, All That Heaven Allows is one of those classics that may surprise you once you get around to savoring them. Although leaning towards the sentimental, the film is touching and entertaining, the kind of film Hollywood has unlearned to make these days.

Blessed with two talented and attractive leads, the film has been available in reruns, on VHS and DVD for many years. Added to the National Film Registry in 1995, All That Heaven Allows will be preserved for generations to come to offer a glimpse into the aesthetics, style and culture of a time people seem to either glorify or condemn.

All That Heaven Allows trailer.