Walter “no relation to Fritz” Lang had just come off a couple big musicals and been nominated for an oscar (George Stevens beat him with Giant). Written by Phoebe and Henry “parents of Nora” Ephron (Carousel) and shot by Leon Shamroy (Caprice, Leave Her to Heaven, You Only Live Once) in glorious Cinemascope. Seems odd for an office comedy which all takes place indoors, but it looked really nice so I’m not complaining. Katy liked it, too.

This massive wide shot of the research department, where the bulk of the film takes place, looks so sad shrunken down to web-size:

Katharine Hepburn heads the research department at a TV network, with her loyal coworkers Peg The Older One (Joan Blondell of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Footlight Parade, Nightmare Alley), Ruthie The Cute One (Sue Randall, whom I thought I recognized, but this was her only film before a busy ten-year TV career) and Sylvia The Nondescript Blonde (Dina Merrill of The Magnificent Ambersons [not the Welles], Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [not the Lang] and Catch Me If You Can [not the Spielberg]).

The girls, L-R: Hepburn, Blondell, Randall, Merrill. Notice anything about the actresses’ names when they’re strung together like that?

All is running smoothly until Spencer Tracy shows up muttering about computers and waving a measuring tape all over the place. Rumors fly that he’s planning to replace the girls with machines. Finally the mammoth computer is installed (thanks to the movie’s marketing partner IBM) along with its brittle operator (TV’s Neva Patterson), and worst fears come true when the researchers all get pink slips in their next paycheck. But it turns out everyone got pink slips – the computer in accounting is malfunctioning. IBM didn’t have the whole product-placement thing figured out yet – humorous or not, you’re not supposed to show your major new technological innovation causing massive problems at the company that installed it. To make up for that, Tracy explains that none of the girls will lose their jobs, and in fact their work will be easier than ever thanks to the new computer – a giant lie.

Wikipedia: “At that time IBM had not quite finished establishing its dominance over the computer market, but computers were already starting to replace whole offices of clerical workers, and most Americans did not know much more than that about computers. This movie would prepare them for what computers were about to do to their society.”

I know how Tracy feels. This weekend it took the Flying Biscuit twenty minutes to make my sausage biscuit because “the computer was down”. What computer??

Secondary conflict: Hepburn’s boss (Gig Young of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and the George Sidney Three Musketeers) is also her occasional boyfriend. He’s a loser manager who can’t even do his own budget reports, getting Hepburn to secretly do them for him, and she’s a total brainiac, so it figures at the end she’ll dump the loser in favor of socially-awkward computer egghead Tracy.

Spencer Tracy knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Hepburn’s boss/boyfriend listens intently while she flashes a ghastly expression:

Mob violence must’ve been on Fritz Lang’s mind, after making M and fleeing nazis. This is my second or third favorite of his films, a powerhouse drama with a simmering Spencer Tracy, a wrong-man revenge tale. Makes me all upset every time I watch it. I always forget the incriminating word slip that reveals to Tracy’s girl that he’s still alive: it’s memento/momentum.

It’s hard to skim Patrick McGilligan’s Lang bio since it’s full of conflicting stories told by Lang himself, a notorious fabricator. It seems in the original script, Joe was an honest lawyer and after he’s presumed dead his wife (not fiancee) falls in love with a rival attorney. Joe plans to let the townsfolk/mob hang after some are convicted, but he’s discovered by the attorney/wife who run to stop the hanging. No redemption for Joe – he pulls a gun to stop them. Lang suggested Joe become more likable and the wife take over the story after Joe is “killed” so women will have more to enjoy from the film. “There was indeed a tremendous amount of social awareness in the early versions, which featured breadlines, black characters, even a settlement house where Katherine worked. [Newspaperman, The Front Page screenwriter] Cormack’s first rewrite cleared away some of the social commentary; more would disappear as he honed the script.” Lang had shot scenes to visualize Joe’s guilt: ghosts emerging from behind trees to chase him. At the first test screening, which was Lang’s own cut, “after the ghosts came on the public didn’t stop laughing.” So producer Joe Mankiewicz recut the film, removing the ghosts and shooting a final scene where Joe’s wife hugs him forgivingly (which was never in the Lang version) and the movie opened to acclaim. Lang began a lifelong feud with Mankiewicz and studio head Louis Mayer swore Lang would never work at MGM again – some way to begin his Hollywood career. Fury made a star out of Spencer Tracy and exiled Fritz Lang to make westerns and sequels.

Co-written by Maude. Maude!

Husband and wife lawyers defend opposite sides in a legal case of husband vs. wife. Both relationships get pretty rocky during the case. Good movie, and funny, but not a wacky romantic comedy like the DVD box would have you believe.

Judy Holliday is Doris, who shot her husband. She was great in this, later starred in Born Yesterday and It Should Happen To You before her career died thanks to meddling by the junior senator from wisconsin.

Hepburn & Tracy. IMDB calls this Hepburn’s last performance before she moved into “middle-aged spinster roles.”

Tracy, 13 years after Fury and still a bad-ass.

Tom Ewell (The Seven Year Itch, American Guerrilla in the Philippines) is Warren the wounded husband

Hepburn with David Wayne as Kip, their obnoxious musician neighbor. He’s sort of an annoying Donald O’Connor. What a sorry choice to play Peter Lorre’s character in the remake of M two years later. Also appeared in Hell and High Water, which I’ve seen twice but I still don’t remember him in it.

Jean Hagen as the other woman. She played the comically terrible silent film actress in Singin’ in the Rain.