The Shop Around the Corner Film Details
Overview: Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.
Review: THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is one of the sweetest and most feel-good romantic comedies ever made. There’s just no getting around that, and it’s hard to actually put one’s feeling for this film into words. It’s not one of those films that tries too hard, nor does it come up with the oddest possible scenarios to get the two protagonists together in the end. In fact, all its charm is innate, contained within the characters and the setting and the plot… which is highly believable to boot. It’s easy to think that such a love story, as beautiful as any other ever told, *could* happen to you… a feeling you don’t often get from other romantic comedies, however sweet and heart-warming they may be. Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Clara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) don’t have the most auspicious of first meetings when she arrives in the shop (Matuschek & Co.) he’s been working in for the past nine years, asking for a job. They clash from the very beginning, mostly over a cigarette box that plays music when it’s opened–he thinks it’s a ludicrous idea; she makes one big sell of it and gets hired. Their bickering takes them through the next six months, even as they both (unconsciously, of course!) fall in love with each other when they share their souls and minds in letters passed through PO Box 237. This would be a pretty thin plotline to base an entire film on, except that THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is expertly fleshed-out with a brilliant supporting cast made up of entirely engaging characters, from the fatherly but lonely Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) himself, who learns that his shop really is his home; Pirovitch (Felix Bressart), Kralik’s sidekick and friend who always skitters out of the room when faced with the possibility of being asked for his honest opinion; smarmy pimp-du-jour Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) who ultimately gets his comeuppance from a gloriously righteous Kralik; and ambitious errand boy Pepi Katona (William Tracy) who wants nothing more than to be promoted to the position of clerk for Matuschek & Co. The unpretentious love story between ‘Dear Friends’ is played out in this little shop in Budapest, Hungary, in which Kralik’s unceremonious dismissal and subsequent promotion to shop manager help the two lovebirds-to-be along. It’s nice that everyone gets a story in this film; the supporting characters are well-developed, and Matuschek’s own journey in life is almost as touching as the one Alfred and Clara share. His invitation to new errand boy Rudy (Charles Smith) for Christmas Eve dinner, made in the whirling, beautiful snow of a Hungarian winter, makes the audience glad that he is not alone; we come to care even for the characters whose love story it isn’t this film’s business to tell. Aside from the love story, I must say that James Stewart is truly one of the best things about this film. He doesn’t play the full-fledged Jimmy Stewart persona in this film (c/f ‘Mr Smith Goes To Washington’ for that); in fact Alfred Kralik is prickly and abrupt and not particularly kind. He’s rather a brusque man, in fact, with little hint (until, perhaps, the very end) of the aw-shucks down-home boyish charm Stewart would soon come to patent. When he finds out before Clara that they have been corresponding in secret, in fact, Kralik doesn’t ‘fess up–he waits it out to see how far he can take the charade, especially since he quickly realises (given his stormy relationship with Clara as boss and underling) that loving the person he knows through the exchanged letters might not equate with loving the person herself. His description to Clara of the fictional Matthias Popkin (what a name!) who was to become her fiance is hilarious in the extreme, but also his way of proving that the letters don’t reveal all there is to a man, just as her letters don’t reveal all there is to her. Stewart plays this role perfectly–he keeps his face perfectly controlled whenever Clara insults Mr. Kralik, as she is often wont to do, even (and especially) to his face. And yet one believes, underneath the brusqueness and professionalism, that he *could* reveal his identity with as much earnestness and sincerity and sheer *hope* as he eventually does. Special mention must be given to the other members of the cast as well. Margaret Sullavan fares rather less well in the first half of the film, but she really comes into her own in the closing-shop scene on Christmas Eve, when she almost gets her heart broken again by Alfred’s most vivid description of her mailbox sweetheart. Frank Morgan turns in a great performance as the jealous Hugo Matuschek driven to nervous breakdown, the man who has to rediscover his meaning in life when he realises that his wife of 22 years does not want to ‘grow old with him’. And Felix Bressart plays the role of the meek but loyal Pirovitch wonderfully (a Lubitsch regular, since he appears as a hilarious Russian ambassador in NINOTCHKA)–of particular note is the scene in which he helps his good friend Alfred get the Christmas present the latter *really* wants… a wallet instead of that ludicrous cigarette box Clara is so hung up on. Ernst Lubitsch really does himself proud with this film–for example, the famously lavish and meticulous care given to detail in the creation of the Matuschek shop is well worth the effort, right down to the Hungarian names on the door, the wares and the cash register and so on. But even though Lubitsch chose to have the story set in Hungary, the setting is actually universal: it could happen anywhere; it could happen to you. Therein lies the charm of this simple story, these believable characters who really *are* people. The snow on Christmas Eve is real as well, or at least as real as Lubitsch could make it (he had snow machines brought in at great expense). It is this desire to make everything appear as real as possible that helps make the story even more believable, that gives this entire film a dreamy realism that cannot be replicated. (No, not even in a remake like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.) *This* is really the Jimmy Stewart Christmas film that people are missing out on when they talk about IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Not to detract from the merits of that other film, but there’d be no harm, and in fact a lot of good, done in watching THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER this Christmas instead. It’s sweet, funny, charming, and Stewart is impeccable in his role. We should all be so lucky as to have the romance depicted in this film; the best thing about this film is that we come away from it feeling that we very possibly could.
Country: United States
Duration: 99 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
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