Sunday 9 December 2018

Movie Review: The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

A romantic comedy and drama, The Shop Around The Corner is a delightfully sweet story of mixed-up love.

In Budapest, Alfred (James Stewart) is the floor manager of the fashion and accessories store owned by Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan). With Christmas approaching, the pressure is on to have a good sales season. Alfred's co-workers include the kindly but meek Pirovitch (Felix Bressart), the smarmy Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut), and young but ambitious delivery boy Pepi (William Tracy). Klara (Margaret Sullavan) joins the sales team through her sheer force of will, and clashes with Alfred, his calm and calculated personality not clicking with her vivacious attitude.

Unknown to both of them, Alfred and Klara are anonymously corresponding with each other through a match-by-letter service, with a big date approaching where they are supposed to meet. However, Mr. Matuschek is under increasing pressure on the home front, doubting Mrs. Matuschek's fidelity. His personal stress spills onto his employees, disrupting Alfred's career and love life.

An adaptation of a Miklós László play directed and produced by Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around The Corner is a lighthearted romance filled with quirky characters, the soulfulness of an approaching Christmas season, and a classic opposites attract dynamic.

Working in confined surroundings, Lubitsch creates clever and multi-layered interactions between his lovers-to-be. In person the sparks fly in all the wrong directions as they irritate each other with incompatible mannerisms. But they also dreamily speak of the perfect potential residing in their anonymous letters, a case of yearning for the concept of an ideal match residing in the written word while the warts-and-all reality of their potential union is already exposed.

The film is unsurprisingly stage bound, with most of the scenes taking place on the shop floor. A few aspects of the Samson Raphaelson script don't quite work, including Mr. Matuschek disrupting his critical relationship with Alfred just before he receives all the information he needs about his wife's dalliances. Alfred and Klara spend most of the movie sparring instead of developing their romance, and the second half of the film does contain plenty of asymmetrical if benign deception.

James Stewart is his typical upstanding self, while Margaret Sullavan sparkles as the driven woman seeking both and a career and a romance, and who will not settle until her ambitions are achieved. The film is greatly aided by the supporting cast, with Frank Morgan a strong presence hiding Matuschek's kind heart behind a stern exterior. Felix Bressart is also memorable as Pirovitch, a man who has seen everything come and go and will help but only quietly and otherwise skulk away from any noisy conflict.

Mr. Matuschek's shop is full of surprises good and bad, including an unexpected love hiding just around the corner.

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