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Desk Set Reviews

A charming, if predictable, romantic comedy is enlivened by the matchless talents of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn--as well as by its graceful use of a brand-new comic trope: the electronic computer. Richard Sumner (Tracy) is a gruff efficiency expert; Bunny Watson (Hepburn) is a dignified research expert for a TV network, heading a small, overworked staff. Bunny has a photographic memory, as do her high-powered assistants (Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, et al.), each of whom specializes in a crucial field of abstruse knowledge. Sumner has invented a machine which he calls "Emerac"--"Emmy" for short--an electronic brain that can yield instant answers to any conceivable query. Bunny and crew immediately sense the threat to their livelihood and set about testing Emmy's presumed infallibility. Meanwhile, Sumner's presence prompts Mike Cutler (Gig Young), a reluctant suitor of more than seven years, to propose to Bunny. Sumner resolves to prove that Emmy will assist and not replace the research staff; in the process he wins Bunny's heart. DESK SET derives its considerable comic vitality from an issue of legitimate concern to post-war Americans, the little understood, seemingly irrestible automation of the workplace. The Emerac is clearly modelled on the UNIVAC computer, which was introduced in 1951 to great public fanfare and widespread incomprehension. The sharp dialogue (adapted from a Broadway play by William Marchant) is delivered with polish and vigor. The Tracy-Hepburn combination was always electric, and their affection for each other permeates the screen. Blondell, as the wisecracking assistant, is typically fast and funny.