The Shop Around The Corner
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Ernst Lubitsch, Hollywood's master of sophisticated comedy in the continental manner, surprised movie audiences with The Shop Around the Corner (1940), a sentimental, homespun story of combative coworkers in a Budapest leather-goods store who do not realize that each is the other's secret pen-pal sweetheart. Responding to the famed "Lubitsch touch," James Stewart as Alfred and Margaret Sullavan as Klara play the star-crossed pair with great warmth and sensitivity. The romantic complications are ironed out touchingly on Christmas Eve, with a heavy snow falling as the couple sits alone together in the darkened store and Alfred at last tells Klara that he is her "Dear Friend."
Lubitsch, who had signed with MGM to direct Ninotchka (1939) and one other film, owned the rights to a Hungarian play called Parfumerie, by Nikolaus Laszlo. (In the play, the secret lovers work in a perfume shop.) Lubitsch sold the property to the studio for $62,500 as his second production. In adapting the playas The Shop Around the Corner, both Lubitsch and scenarist Samson Raphaelson drew upon their personal histories. Lubtitsch had helped out in his father's tailor shop in Berlin as a youth, and Raphaelson had worked in a shop during the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago just before the turn of the century. To make sure his film was stripped of the glamour usually associated with him, Lubitsch went to such lengths as ordering that a dress Sullavan had purchased off the rack for $1.98 be left in the sun to bleach and altered to fit poorly.
Stewart, enjoying a professional peak during a period that also included You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and his Oscar-winning performance in The Philadelphia Story (1940), would remember The Shop Around the Corner as one of his favorite films. He had been great friends with Sullavan since their early days in the theater in the 1920s, and some biographers have speculated that unrequited love for the actress (who married Stewart's pal, Henry Fonda, in 1931) was the reason Stewart remained a bachelor until 1949.
The modestly produced The Shop Around the Corner was a surprise hit, earning international profits of $380,000 at a time when Hollywood films were waning in the European market. Its influence has continued to be felt in various reincarnations of the story, first as a Judy Garland film musical called In the Good Old Summertime (1949), then as a 1963 Broadway musical entitled She Loves Me that was revived in 1993. In You've Got Mail (1998), the story was updated to the electronic age by having the secret lovers played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan correspond through email.
Producer/Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Ben Hecht (uncredited), from a play by Miklos Laszlo
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Original Music: Walter R. Heymann
Principal Cast: Margaret Sullavan (Klara Novak), James Stewart (Alfred Kralik), Frank Morgan (Hugo Matuschek), Joseph Schildkraut (Ferencz Vadas), Sara Haden (Flora Katcuck), Felix Bressart (Pirovitch)
BW-99m. Close captioning. Descriptive video.
By Roger Fristoe