1 August 2006 | EUyeshima
Breezy Tracy-Hepburn Workplace Comedy Benefits Mainly from Their Teamwork
If you replace the constant use of the term "automation" with "outsourcing", this 1957 workplace-driven comedy would be quite a relevant tweak on corporate restructuring and office politics. As it stands now, it's a light piece of entertainment that benefits primarily from a smart screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (Nora's parents...must run in the family) and of course, the incomparable Tracy-Hepburn teamwork. It's not their best work, but fifteen years into their relationship, they achieve an easy, laser-sharp rapport here that makes the film easy to enjoy.
Efficiently directed by Walter Lang, the movie focuses its plot on the research department of a national TV network, the so-called Federal Broadcasting System. The four-woman staff is headed by the whip-smart Bunny Watson, who appears to possess a wealth of information and an unfailing memory for the smallest detail. They work like clockwork together in finding responses to often extremely trivial questions, but they do everything manually. Enter Richard Sumner, a befuddled man with a measuring tape and mismatched socks, who turns out to be a brilliant engineer hired by the network CEO to install an electronic brain called EMERAC. Designed to streamline the research process, the monolithic computer has the research staff understandably concerned about pending unemployment. Invariably, Bunny and Sumner start to recognize a mutual attraction through the awkwardness, and further complications arise with the presence of Mike Cutler, a rising network executive who has pompously kept Bunny on a leash for years.
As Bunny, Katharine Hepburn appears to be playing a variation of herself, which in this case, suits the role perfectly. By comparison, Tracy seems a bit tired as Sumner, except when interacting with Hepburn, whether unsuccessfully volleying brainteasers on a freezing rooftop, eating floating islands in their bathrobes, or canoodling between the second-floor bookshelves during the office Christmas party. A terrific supporting cast has been assembled starting with Gig Young in his typical role as the third wheel Mike, which he plays with enough sharp and smarmy aplomb to make Bunny's dilemma palpable. Joan Blondell expertly plays Bunny's stalwart sidekick Peg, and they achieve a genuine chemistry as they banter about the "Mexican Avenue bus".
Dina Merrill and Sue Randall (forever etched in my memory as Beaver's crush-worthy schoolteacher Miss Landers on "Leave It to Beaver") seem a bit too glamorous to be librarians, but they're both serviceable, while Neva Patterson plays EMERAC's coldly efficient "mother", Miss Warriner, to brittle perfection. Even though the sets are pure 1950's-style décor, Leon Shamroy makes full use of the Cinemascope process to bring his color-saturated cinematography to the widescreen. The 2004 DVD comes with a commentary track by film historian John Lee, who provides interesting insight to the production, casting and stage-to-screen translation. Merrill provides some remembrances of her own, but her commentary is spotty and a bit self-serving. A vintage, minute-long newsreel on the film's costumes; a few trailers for other Fox films of the period; and a photo gallery complete the package.