The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, as shop workers Klara and Alfred, are a perfect pairing.

 

Rating: 10/10

So this is what they mean by the Lubitsch touch. This masterpiece leaves me wondering why rom-coms are just bloody awful nowadays, especially when compared to the classics of the 30’s and 40’s (maybe all the possibly interesting story-lines have been done too well already). The remake of this film the dreadful You’ve Got Mail (how dated it already seems) is a case in point.

This film set in  depression era Budapest, follows the workers of a leather goods shop the Matuschek and Company store, and is based a lot on Lubitsch’s own personal knowledge of the family-run retail business having come from a family that ran a tailor’s shop which he had helped out in.  The engaging cast of characters include the lonely and authoritarian shop owner Mr. Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan aka the wizard in Wizard of Oz), the hard working, cultured and intelligent salesman and bachelor Alfred (the wonderful James Stewart) who has slowly worked his way up the shop’s hierarch. Then there is the humble, knowing and affable clerk Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) who acts as Alfred’s confidante, the pretentious, obsequious and manipulative Pirovitch who slyly solicits favour from Matuschek’s wife and the wisecracking, savvy and ambitious errands boy Pepi (William Tracy).Finally there’s Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), the love interest and ambitious and clever saleswoman who is at first Alfred’s arch nemesis. Little do Klara and Alfred that they while they are exchanging witty barbs (such as this brilliant perfectly-timed exchange: Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth. Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.) they are falling in love with each other via anonymous correspondence.

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