Desk Set movie question

I was watching Desk Set on netflix last night and I thought it was quite enjoyable but I didn’t understand one line.

At the beginning of the movie when Sumner is measuring everything and the research women are wondering what’s going on, they have the conversation below:

“Maybe we’re being redecorated!”

“Does he look like an interior decorator to you?”

No, he looks like one of those men who’s suddenly switched to vodka!

laugh laugh laugh

What does the bolded line mean? He’s an alcoholic? He’s just discovered alcohol? He’s a lightweight drinker? I’m very confused. If only I knew a reference librarian.

Could it be that vodka was slipped into a cup, pretending to be water, so that no one knows you’re drinking alcohol.

I was thinking maybe it was a vodka commercial. I see the film was released in 1957, and a quick google shows a bunch of vodka commercials from that year. One has Wally Cox in it…that sounds good for a laugh (I’m not where I can watch these youtube commercials but maybe someone else can see if it could be that.)

By the way, that’s a great movie!

I don’t think it has much real meaning, except as a reflection of Peg’s rather unromantic view of men.

On the other hand, it might refer to Tracy’s character’s somewhat unkempt appearance, or his unconventional behavior, either or both of which could imply that he was on a slide downhill from respectability (drinking wine, or maybe beer) towards being a toper (drinking hard liquor).

I think this is my favorite Tracy/Hepburn movie, it gives Hepburn a chance to shine and all her mannerisms fit in perfectly. The only problem I had was one piece of casting - Gig Young was 6 years younger than she was, and looked 10 years younger.

Oh thank god, I was worried I was going to come back to a bunch of “…really? It’s <something super obvious>.”

Ok, I can see the disreputable angle; that makes sense. I did also think Gig looked surprisingly young though I thought it helped to make Katharine look a little more desperate.

edit: apropos of nothing but while a cracking good movie, it was an utter waste of Dina Merrill.

This would be my guess, as well. This is the period when Vodka went from nowhere to being one America’s most popular drinks, as a result of a series of successful advertising campaigns.

Huh! I always thought they were implying the man now had a controlling woman in his life. As in, switches to Vodka so as to disguise how much he actually drinks! I thought it meant the guy was now a little whipped, no longer overtly a drunken sot who cares not a whit about appearances.

Really? I thought that was the perfect role for her - decorative and uninteresting.

But the remark was made when they first met him, before they knew anything about him at all except that he was measuring the place and that he looked a little down-at-heel.

Whiskey was a man’s drink. Vodka was not. It was not drunk straight at the time and was generally an ingredient in cocktails with mixers and fruit juices (martinis were made from gin at the time). In short, it was we’d today call a “girly” drink.

“Interior decorator” is another clue.

They’re implying he’s gay. “Switching to vodka” implies he’s just went gay, all of a sudden.

I thought of it as becoming a secret drinker. People would drink vodka over brown liquors because it was thought to be harder to detect by aroma.

For criminy’s sake, c’mon, people. There is almost no one on this earth less likely to be confused for a gay guy in a 1950s film than Spencer freakin’ Tracy. The “does he look like an interior decorator to you?” is code for the sort of gent usually played by Edward Everett Horton, but that notion is rejected, sarcastically, and substituted with another stereotype–this time of a washed-up boozehound.

The reference is likely connected to the idea that a guy who’s such an inveterate drinker that he’s had to go from the usual stuff (whisky, scotch) to something clear that he can hide and pretend it’s water (especially since it’s odorless). He’s moved past “acceptable social drinker” to “guy who’s drinking so much he’s even an anomaly for the '50s cocktail generation, and needs to pretend otherwise.”

In short, someone not altogether different from Tracy.

My understanding (from the book about alcoholic drinks “Big Shots” by A J Baime) is that vodka was pretty much unknown in the United States until the 1930s. It was introduced by the Smirnoffs who got out of tsarist Russia when the godless commies took over and settled in France. After Prohibition ended vodka had the advantage of being able to make quickly but the drawback of not being drinkable by itself. Smirnoff had to educate people how to mix it. Probably some people like Tracy’s character drank too much of it straight or mixed it improperly.

I disagree. The subtext is:

“He’s gay.”
“He doesn’t look gay.”
“Oh, he’s gay all right.”

Also, in the 50s, no one in America drank vodka straight (see Jim’s Son’s post: “After Prohibition ended vodka had the advantage of being able to make quickly but the drawback of not being drinkable by itself.” (emphasis added)). If you were sneaking a drink, you’d drink rye or scotch or bourbon in a coffee cup.

So the line says he’s switched to a form of alcohol used in drinks that today we’d call “girly.” The sarcasm is there to indicate that “suddenly switched to vodka” is a euphemism.

You say there’s nothing about Tracy that makes him seem gay. But then, there’s nothing to make him seem he’s an alcoholic. And, of course, the “closet” existed back then.

No. A heavy drinker wouldn’t switch his drink; he’d just figure out ways to hide his drinking: in a coffee cup (or in the coffee to cover the scent), in a secret stash, when no one’s around, etc. And, again, you’re assuming people drank vodka straight – they did not in that time frame.

Ditto. I don’t know if I’ve seen it or I’m just able to imagine, but the line “I’ve just switched” totally sounds like an ad slogan to me.

Decided to open up “Big Shots”. A lot credit for vodka’s success goes to a man named John Gilbert Martin. In 1939 Rudolph Kunett, who had the Smirnoff formula (he was a Russian emigre whose family sold grain to the Smirnoff’s before 1917) was selling less than 6,000 cases a year. He met Martin who did risky investments for fun. After WWII Martin got involved with a man named Jack Morgan who was trying to sell ginger beer in Hollywood. The two experimented with the two drinks and came up with a concoction they called a Moscow Mule.
Martin got a Polaroid camera with the new technology of developing a picture in a minute. He then started to hit the best known bars in the country. First he dazzled bartenders with the camera and then convince them to be photographed drinking a Moscow Mule. He took two photos. One for himself, the other for a bar room wall. He’d then go to another bar, show the bartender the photo and say if they are drinking Moscow Mules, you should be too. And so it went.

 There was a demonstration against vodka  by bartenders in 1954 at the height of the Cold War.

A photo of a banner saying “We don’t need Smirnoff Vodka-down with the Moscow Mule” appeared in the New York Daily News. Rather than being scared, Martin was delighted with the publicity. In New York sales tripled in a seven week period. By 1955 Martin was selling a million cases a year. Hollywood began touting vodka and women began accompanying their men to bars and cocktails
sold well, as bartenders realized that the relatively tasteless vodka was easier to mix than gin or whiskey.

You might think of them as “girly”, but in 1957, mixed drinks were the norm for the smart, aspirational, white-collar social drinker (at least as depicted by Hollywood and Madison Ave).

Apart from turning up the day before his appointment, and seeming not to know what day it actually is. Other than wandering into an office and taking a seat without introducing himself, or explaining his business, and then wandering around with a general air of good-natured distraction, seemingly oblivious to the curious attention he’s attracted.

It did, and people’s general awareness of homosexuality was much lower than it is today, so it seems to me that a joke that relied on identifying someone as gay would need to be a good deal less subtle than this one would seem to be. It was a time when Liberace was passing as straight, after all.

… or by choosing a drink that advertised itself with the tagline “It leaves you breathless”, as Smirnoff did.

Read it again. The punch line says, “No he doesn’t look gay, he looks like [something].”

I agree with everyone that the [something] is “a drunk,” and that the phrase “suddenly switched to vodka” is an allusion to something current at the time. We may never know what it was, though.

This was always my assumption.

Also, I adore this movie. I consider it a holiday movie, but I’ll watch it any time of year because librarians. :slight_smile: