I must admit I was a little unsure what I was getting myself into when I put Desk Set on my 2018 Blind Spot list. I needed a Christmas movie I had yet to see (a tough task when you are dealing with me, the Queen of Christmas movies), but I didn’t enjoy the much heralded Hepburn/Tracy film Adam’s Rib. Despite their chemistry, it just didn’t work for me (been a while since I’ve seen it but that was my experience at the time). Fortunately my experience with Desk Set, was much better, and I thoroughly enjoyed this bubbly Christmas romcom.
Desk Set was the 8th of 9 pairings between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and it was directed by the great Walter Lang and written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of my literary hero Nora Ephron!). They built the lead roles with Hepburn and Tracy in mind and you can tell- especially for Hepburn the lines feel like they are almost improv it is so natural.
Heburn plays a woman named Bunny Watson who works as a researcher that answers questions for reporters. She is a very modern woman who has been dating her boyfriend Mike for 7 years and leads an office of 3 other women (Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randell). These women are strong, yet feminine and can definitely hold their liquor. If you made a version of Desk Set today you wouldn’t have to change much of the behavior of the women, which considering this was made in 1957, that is saying something.
Unfortunately, the perfect office is disturbed when Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner comes in and announces they are replacing the researchers with 2 EMERAC computers. Richard then works with the women to make the transition to the computers as seamless as possible. Of course, it is fascinating to see the effects of automation and computers on a 1957 workplace when the same issues and workplace dynamics exist today. We just call it google instead of the EMERAC!
Desk Set is not a movie that is going to have you in stitches laughing. It’s more a pleasant workplace comedy starring two Hollywood greats with terrific chemistry. Hepburn’s Bunny can be quite sarcastic and snarky with Tracy’s Richard, especially when she is drunk. She even laughs so hard in one scene she snorts, which I’m sure was unplanned!
It did take me a bit to get into Desk Set (the first act is pretty slow) but once the computer arrives and they have their Christmas party it gets cracking! If you like romantic or workplace comedies you will enjoy it. It doesn’t have the emotional heft of something like The Apartment but it’s a delightful little comedy with a hint of Christmas in it for the holidays.
If you’ve seen Desk Set what did you think? Do you like it better than Adam’s Rib or is there another Hepburn/Tracy pairing you prefer over both of them?
Thanks for joining me in this 3rd year of Blind Spots! I am excited to start a new series for 2019 and if you have any suggestions please let me know! Merry Christmas!
It’s time for my third entry in the Hit Me with Your Best Shot film project done by Nathaniel over at the Film Experience
I’m really excited about this project because it is kind of like a book club- in that it is interesting to see what other people think about the same movie, all watching it at the same time. Plus, it introduces me to new films I might not have discovered on my own. I won’t be able to review every movie because of content (as last week’s Magic Mike selection demonstrated) but the one’s I can I’m very enthusiastic about.
This week’s choice is The Red Shoes which is a film made in 1948 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as The Archers) . It is a movie I admit I had never heard of before but of course it is a classic (so many of those it’s hard to keep track of all of them). And it is fortunately a classic for a reason. It is a stunning movie about passion, work, love and dance.
Frequent readers to this blog will already know one of my favorite topics in film is work. Why we work? How we balance work? When have we over-worked? How do you know what work to do? What is passion and what is too much? What about the doldrums when we are miserable at work? I love comedies, dramas, even cartoons about work.
Well, in The Red Shoes you have a woman that has an unusual job- she is a prima ballerina. At the beginning I was a little bit confused about who all the characters were and what was going on. If this happens to you stick with it. It all gets explained. The ballerina in question is named Victoria ‘Vicky’ Page (Moira Shearer) and through an aunt of hers she is introduced to Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is an eccentric strange man who’s obsession is having the greatest ballet company in all of France.
As the director he ends up giving Vicky a shot when his ballerina gets married and is fired (there is no option of a working woman in this film). Vicky’s first role is as the lead in a ballet called The Red Shoes based on the Hans Christen Andersen story. It is written by the conductor Julian Craster (Marius Goring) who is new to the ballet company like Vicky.
I don’t want to give too much away because I went into this movie completely fresh and I’m glad. Basically it is about Vicky’s battle between her love or personal life and her passion for dance or career. There is an extended ballet sequence which is a stunning surrealist masterpiece. I loved this shot from that dance. You can see both the home and the dance reaching out to Vicky.
There is also a great scene towards the end where Lermontov tells Vicky ‘you cannot live two lives’ and she must choose what she wants. (I have to admit I was a little bit let down by the ending but given it was 1948 it is kind of understandable). Even in modern times most working women will tell you ‘you can’t have it all’. Something is always sacrificed whether it is work, family or both.
But my favorite shot from The Red Shoes is from the ballet. One of the things I noticed is whenever Vicky is dancing she is always smiling. You can tell she is so happy and perhaps that is the best litmus test of all? Whatever makes you happy than try do as much of that as you can…It may not be your career but make it the thing you work for.
In a way watching her dance reminded me of the movie Ed Wood (I know strange comparison but hear me out). He is so happy making his terrible movies. The smile on his face never leaves.
So rarely is great passion matched with talent, so especially in Vicky’s case she should embrace what gives her that big smile. That’s why I picked this shot. I love the dancing, red shoes and the smile.
I’ve mentioned on this blog I have only recently gotten into the superhero movie genre. For years they were too explosion heavy and stupid without any interesting characters. With Avengers started a new trend (at least for me) of charismatic actors playing likable characters with interesting stories. Each year it seems they get stronger till last year we had 3 excellent entries with X-men Days of Future Past, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Each of these movies were puzzles with entertaining characters and good stories.
During the superhero dry spell there were 2 movies that poked through the dreck Spiderman 2 and The Incredibles. Hercules was actually Disney’s first attempt at making a comic book movie but Pixar’s The Incredibles was their first true superhero movie. But like any good genre movie The Incredibles rises above it to be great on so many levels.
I think every movie fan has certain touchpoints in movies that when they are there it is almost always a win. Some of mine are flying, the ocean, true love, musicals, work, and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. The last two are particularly prevalent in The Incredibles but perhaps not messages people first think of. But I know for me The Incredibles is great because it is a movie about work and coming to terms with your own story. It’s also a great movie about family and the power of a strong marriage.
Like any good movie about work The Incredibles starts out showing Bob and Helen Parr’s potential to do great things- to be super. But through a brilliant opening montage we learn they must hide their abilities and attempt to live a normal life. For Helen this means be a housewife to her 3 children which she can tolerate enough. However, for Bob it means working in what I call ‘cubicle hell’ in a job selling insurance policies.
This is not who Bob is. Other people could be perfectly happy selling insurance but he is miserable because he was made for better things. I know how that feels. I’ve been in that cubicle knowing I could do more, be more, and it is the worst feeling ever. Sure bad things happen all the time but it is a different kind of awful to be stuck permanently with an unhappy mediocre life.
Bob’s boss is this tiny little shrill man which makes for the greater contrast with Bob and their interactions are very funny. He wants to do something good with his life. He wants to tell the story he’s supposed to tell. It’s the same reason I love The Little Mermaid. Ariel isn’t happy because she isn’t being the person she knows she is supposed to be. I really believe it is an important part of human existence to find out what you are supposed to give the world and then do it. And I’ve been in the Ariel/Bob spot where I knew I didn’t belong and had to make a change.
I also relate to Dash Parr, Bob and Helen’s youngest son who has the gift of being super fast. He wants to use his gift but he can’t. He is told to not express that. He makes the brilliant point “when everyone is special, nobody is”. (You all can see why I like Frozen so much right…same message of a child told to hide their gifts). I can remember as a little girl feeling like I couldn’t share my heart very well. I told my family in one argument “I’m the weird one here but at school I’m the normal one”. Just like Ariel and Dash didn’t quite belong. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling.
But then Bob (Mr Incredible voiced by Craig T Nelson) gets the opportunity to start using his skills again. And what happens? He is happy. He gets in shape. He smiles more. He and his wife (Elastigirl voiced by Helen Hunt) don’t argue as much. He’s telling the right story so he is in a good place. He’s doing the work he was made to do. He even gets a new flashy supersuit from the hilarious fashionista Edna (director Brad Bird).
Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as he at first hopes. It turns out a young boy who was bothering him during the glory days has grown bitter and wants to enact revenge on all superheroes especially his former idol Mr Incredible. He wants to be the hero but with his own inventions not the help of super powers. He is a very chilling, scary villain, partly because he knows all the villain cliches. At one point he says ‘you got me monologuing!”
Eventually the entire family becomes involved in fighting Syndrome and it is in the last third the movie becomes more of a standard superhero movie but still entertaining. Both Violette and Dash are instrumental in saving the day and using their powers along with the Parr friend Frozone (Samuel L Jackson). I love when Helen tells the kids “Your identity is your most valuable possession”. That’s a main message of the film.
I love the sense of family and camaraderie with the Parrs and it is so fun to see each family member blossom in their own unique ways. Most Disney films are about people meeting and falling in love. Incredibles is one of the only one’s I can think of about how important marriage is. It shows a couple fighting, getting along, and working together. Violette at one point says ” Mom and Dad’s lives could be in jeopardy or worse- their marriage”. I love that!
Like in Finding Nemo there is some terrific dialogue in between the action- along with some real moments of heart. I love when Bob rants about graduation. It reminds me of when President Obama wanted to outlaw 8th grade graduation- the one item we probably agree on most!
Helen: I can’t believe you don’t want to go to your own son’s graduation!
Bob: It’s not a graduation. He is moving from the fourth grade to the fifth grade.
Helen: It’s a ceremony!
Bob: It’s psychotic! People keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional…
Ha! That cracks me up every time!
There’s a lot of witty dialogue like that and that keeps it from feeling too predictable or stale. Edna especially gets a lot of the great laughs.
Syndrome might be a little scary for small children (I’m so bad at gauging that). Some of the work and marriage drama might be a bit over their heads but it is surrounded by the kids who I think children will really relate too. They will enjoy the action and the story is simple enough for them to understand.
The Incredibles is a movie you can watch with your entire family because it is about a family. They are dysfunctional at times and quarrel but so does every family. In the end they all want what is best for each other . They all want their family to be safe and happy. the movie is the journey that gets them a little closer to that goal.
I love it. And like I said if you piece it apart it is one of the best movies about work I’ve seen.
Overall Grade- A+
So Incredibles 2 is the next project for Brad Bird. Are we excited? I am!