Each year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar takes a look at the perhaps lesser-known Christmas films. The ones that we don’t make a point of re-watching each year as festive tradition. With that in mind this year the Calendar, with slight inspiration from last year’s selection of The Curse Of The Cat People, delves into the world of forgotten classics, the ones that may have been slightly left behind in exchange for the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife.
To ease into this year’s calendar, and prepare for the nearing time off work, why not start the week building up to Christmas with the most recent of the forgotten classics? Going back to 1957 with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn led rom-com Desk Set.
Dread or await it in many places the eventual office Christmas party is inevitable. In Desk Set it comes alive as the otherwise divided up branches in the tower block offices of television network FDN (Federal Broadcasting Network) merge into one space to drink, sing and generally celebrate. It’s the festive core of the film which has been building up to that point – decorations gradually spreading across the research department, led by Katherine Hepburn’s Bunny. Throughout the rest of the year the phones ring almost non-stop with questions for the team of four women (including Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randall), who overflow with instant memorised knowledge from their expansive reference library.
However, there’s a coldness to the season as Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner unexpectedly turns up one day to transform the research department into one giant computer, leading to money saved for the network and job losses for the employees. Yet, despite the initial fear of a pink layoff slip instead of a gift, goodwill begins to spread; particularly as Bunny and Richard become better acquainted with the spirit of Christmas growing as the day draws nearer. It’s as the season becomes more present in the second half of the film, and key involvement of a present leads to the formation of one or two developments in the third act, that Christmas truly becomes more a part of the piece overall, it acts as the turning point for both better and worse when it comes to the fates of those in the research department.
Particularly for Bunny as she grows closer to Sumner, despite her years-long relationship with network executive Mike Cutler – although every time she’s been expecting a proposal she’s been knocked back more and more. It’s a common theme or plotline to be found in Christmas films and it’s certainly present within Desk Set, particularly as it nears the week of Christmas where, as mentioned, many of the pivotal moments of goodwill, and indeed knockback, take place; largely within the confines of the warmly-lit and highly festive research department, contrasting with the highly metallic nature of Sumner’s computer.
As characters gradually warm to each other and put a stop to the workplace cold shoulders there’s an echo of plenty of other seasonal character shifts, relationships and changes for the better. It’s certainly in place here and makes for a traditional feel within Desk Set which captures the festive spirit; alongside the more joyful, communal elements of the key nearly-time-off office Christmas party.
Desk Set can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
Or you might have a physical copy of it available somewhere. To see other places where you can rent or stream the film, particularly in your country, it’s always worth checking JustWatch.