The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan
supporting cast: Frank Morgan
In a fit of boredom, I've begun watching classic films again. I was just fortunate enough to find a James Stewart collection of movies during one of my last trips to the store and it just happened to include The Shop Around the Corner. I vaguely remembered this little title from several years ago,but nothing really stood out to me. So I decided to pay $2.50 for it so I could watch it again, without suffering through the bother of a scratched library disc. Talk about a great purchase!
For fans of classic cinema, The Shop Around the Corner is also known as being the 1st in a line of remakes: In the Good Old Summertime (1949) starring Van Johnson and Judy Garland and, of course, You've Got Mail (1998) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Based on a Hungarian theatrical play from 1937, The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest and, remarkably, has nothing to do with World War II. Instead, it follows the love lives of two shop employees, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). Each of them has been a letter correspondent to an individual who placed an advertisement in the newspaper desiring to correspond about social, literary, and intellectual interests. Naturally, the two are corresponding with one another! A fact made more amusing because in real life they're coworkers and can't stand each other!
The supporting cast includes: Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), Felix Bressart, Joseph Schildkraut, William Tracy, and Sara Haden. A fine collection of actors offering both additional comic relief and serious drama and the reality of pain involved with infidelity.
There's something so utterly romantic about true love developing through letters. There is so much power in the written word. So much potential to share an intimate part of oneself so completely that the other person knows you fully. That is the love story in The Shop Around the Corner. Alfred and Klara dislike one another, sort of, in the real world, but that's only because the intimacy they've shared on the written page is not the same sort of intimacy one shares in the everyday, with coworkers and acquaintances. It's no wonder that neither of them suspected the other was their letter correspondent. In the day-to-day encounters, all they saw was the external while the letters allowed a glimpse of the internal. Two entirely different things.
Every once in awhile, classic Hollywood really delivered a winner . . . like The Shop Around the Corner. If you're at all familiar with James Stewart than you know he thrives on sharp, snappy dialogue. After all, he was my favorite part of The Philadelphia Story. So if there's one thing Samson Raphaelson is able to deliver it's that snappy dialogue associated with sophisticated romantic comedies of the eras. The pairing of Raphaelson' script and Stewart's acting is supremely brilliant. Frank Morgan remains a long-time favorite of mine, every since I saw him as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. As for Margaret Sullavan, I've never seen her in any other role, but I liked her performance well enough that I want to test some of her other roles.
I honestly couldn't tell you why I didn't care for The Shop Around the Corner the first time I saw it, but I can say that I love it now. It's one of the most vibrant and delightful films of that transitional period between the 1930s and 1940s, a gem delivered by director Ernst Lubitsch.
While I already know this version is my favorite of the 3 films made from this story, I'll be watching In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail sometime in the next couple of months, so stay tuned.
And if you've never seen The Shop Around the Corner, there's no time like the present! ❤