The Shop Around the Corner
Release year: 1940
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenwriter: Samson Raphaelson, Miklós László (based on the play ‘Illatszertár’ by)
Starring: James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Inez Courtney
When Klara (Sullavan) starts working in the shop where Alfred (Stewart) is the most trusted salesman, the two doesn’t exactly hit it of. But as the two bicker, little do they know that they are falling in love through post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.
Before making himself immortal in probably the best known Christmas classic as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Stewart stole hearts in this, another favourite Holiday movie among many. The tall, handsome actor with his famous drawl had a real knack for giving his characters an honest feel and his Alfred is no exception. In other hands the self-assured salesman may come of as arrogant, but in the hands of Stewart, he is a charming and approachable character. His leading lady Sullavan, who also starred with Stewart in 1938 movie The Shopworn Angel, shares some of the same qualities. Her Klara has zest as well as sweetness, a true girl-next-door and the perfect match for Stewart’s Alfred. Watching the two argue while realizing they are each other’s secret love interest is a real joy. But next to the main story of Klara and Alfred is a touching story of Mr. Matuschek and his shop; the frame around it all. Morgan (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) plays the shop owner sympathetically, especially in the touching scene toward the ending, where he greet each of his employees at the door. His performance shows a great tenderness underneath the surface and the fact that it is hidden, makes it that more effective. Another big piece to the puzzle of the story and another great performance is that of Bressart (Ninotchka, 1939). Whether making you giggle from the way he runs from possible conflicts with the boss or melts your heart when he shows up for his co-worker and friend, Bressart quickly becomes the heart in a movie that is about the hearts of two other characters, and that is a remarkable accomplishment. The Shop Around the Corner is a classic at it’s best: sweet and capable of lifting both hearts and spirits. A true Christmas classic that can be seen all year around and that will undoubtedly continue to warm hearts and souls.
The movie is based on the Hungarian play ‘Illatszertár’ which was also the base of ‘In the Good Old Summertime (1949) as well as Nora Ephron’s 1998 movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’.
Soon after wrapping principal photography, Ernst Lubitsch talked to the New York Sun in January 1940. ‘It’s not a big picture, just a quiet little story that seemed to have some charm. It didn’t cost very much, for such a cast, under $500,000. It was made in twenty-eight days. I hope it has some charm.’
Even though Margaret Sullavan was infamous for her quick temper and disdainful attitude towards Hollywood, James Stewart counted working with her as one of the great joys of his professional career. And because he knew her personally, he was more equipped than most of the cast and crew members to deal with her frequent and volatile emotional outbursts.
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Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video