I saw an intriguing movie last night called Desk Set (1957) starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and co-starring Joan Blondell as Hepburn’s energetic best friend and Gig Young as her sleazy fiancé. It was written and produced by Nora Ephron’s parents, a fact I found both interesting and annoying. Hollywood and politics share that good ole rampant nepotism. (“You could’ve had a career selling wallpaper,” my friend Barry pointed out, referencing my dad’s work.)
Anyway, this movie is about a team of television network researchers headed up by Hepburn dealing with a consultant (Tracy) brought in for a secretive mission – which turns out to be computerizing the company. IBM is also a lead character. Hepburn actually plays a human version of “Google.” She outwits Tracy’s engineer character, the romantic interest who steals her away from Gig Young’s character. Tracy was 57 when the film came out, and they have him hidden behind oversized slouch hats and trench coats. Hepburn was 50 and looks like she always looked: slender, straight-backed, and dressed in the kind of clothes any dyke in any era would die for.
Speaking of which, when the men aren’t around (and remember, they were gone to war in the 40s), there is a lesbo-erotic undercurrent, full of fun and slapped rear ends. When the men turn up, the women put on their silly and pretend that masculinity is irresistible. However, there’s a serious point here, too, about the exile of women workers from their jobs in favor of men after the war.
If you want to remember the days when films were often populated by working women, check out this enthralling treat. I saw it “on demand” on HBO.
Here's the trailer: