It is hard to decide what constitutes a “holiday” movie. I recently saw a holiday DVD collection that included The Shop Around The Corner (1940), and I was surprised that someone considered it a holiday film. Since Jimmy Stewart is unquestionably my favorite actor, I was more than happy to pull this film out of the closet and watch it again, to see how I felt.
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around The Corner tells the story of a gift shop named “Matuschek and Company”, located in Budapest. Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is the owner, and he employs five sales people, including his head clerk, Mr. Kralik (Jimmy Stewart). As a long time employee, Kralik is in line to one day take over the shop, but he and Mr. Matuschek begin to develop personal differences, thus causing friction between them. Kralik doesn’t understand why there is a sudden change in their previously pleasant working relationship, and to add to his worries, Mr. Matuschek has hired a new saleswoman, Miss Novak (Margaret Sullavan), who infuriates Kralik to no end.
Amidst the shops personal turmoil, Kralik is talking with one of his other co-workers, Mr. Pirovitch (Flex Bressart), and he tells him about a woman with whom has been corresponding. Although these letter writers know almost nothing about each other, they are falling in love through their words. It doesn’t take long to discover that Kralik is in fact corresponding with Miss Novak, and after having fixed things between Mr. Matuschek and himself, Kralik can now completely focus on deciding how best to handle his love for his irritatingly irresistible co-worker.
On the exterior, The Shop Around The Corner is a delightfully amusing and romantic film. The story of the relationship between Kralik and Novak is sweet and tender, and the only difficulty in these scenes is in believing that these two actors could ever disagree long enough to carry on an argument. Their undeniable chemistry (in all four of their films) is one of the greatest on screen pairings in movie history. Their romance in The Shop Around The Corner is an easy one to hope ends well.
The other half of the story that plays out with Mr. Matuschek is where the film adds depth, as well as its darker side. Mr. Matuschek believes his wife may be having an affair, and where he used to be more cheerful and pleasant, he has now become suspicious of everyone around him. (Hence the trouble between himself and Mr. Kralik.) Ernst Lubitsch is the master of taking a seemingly light-hearted film and sneaking enough seriousness into it to give his film a very “adult” feeling. The Shop Around The Corner is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but that is only half the story. There is nothing funny about Mr. Matuschek and his personal life. Frank Morgan does an exceptional job in this role because he juggles the comedy and drama with an effortless quality. At times he generates the biggest laughs, but he is undoubtedly the saddest character in the film.
Is The Shop Around The Corner a holiday movie? It certainly embodies the spirit of the holiday season, as well as a sizeable part of the film taking place during the Christmas shopping season, including the film’s climax taking place on Christmas Eve. The Shop Around The Corner was released in January of 1940, so it doesn’t appear that it was anyone’s intension to make this a Christmas film, but now more than 70 years later, it has been embraced as one. Each December it can be found somewhere on TV, and apparently it is now being packaged in holiday gift sets, so I guess I will jump on board as well.
The Shop Around The Corner was later made into a musical film In The Good Old Summertime (1949), starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and then later as You’ve Got Mail (1998), starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Both of these films are entertaining and enjoyable on their own, and You’ve Got Mail nicely pays tribute to Lubitsch and his film in several scenes. It is such an enchanting story that any of them can be loved on their own, but the magical combination of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan make this one the best.Back to Home for More Reviews