The Shop Around The Corner

The Shop Around The Corner

****1/2

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Re-released just in time for Christmas, director Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around The Corner is perfect seasonal fare. Its central plot element - a bickering pair of co-workers who don't realise that they are each other's beloved pen pal - has spawned numerous remakes and homages which may be better known to most filmgoers today, most notably the Tom Hanks comedy You've Got Mail.

Viewers coming to this film for the first time might find the setting odd – the aforementioned shop is on a small street in pre-War Budapest - given the starring role of American actor James Stewart. But this wintry, old European backdrop adds a quaint air of romance to the picture, almost as though the audience is being invited to view a last hurrah of innocence before the storm clouds of war.

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Set in in the run-up to Christmas, the film focuses on the conflict (and unknown romance-by-mail) between long-time assistant manager Alfred Kralik (Stewart) and confident new starter Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). They are both employees at the emporium owned by the gruff but paternal Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan) and staffed by a mixed bag of eccentrics who wouldn't look out of place in a modern US TV sitcom. Right from the start, the two are fighting like cats. But as their conflict deepens, their letter romance seems to blossom almost in inverse proportion.

Along with this comedy of errors, further dramas in the shop also unfold as Alfred must deal with being fired and fearing he isn't sophisticated enough for his lover-by-mail, the store faces poor Christmas sales and various employees rankle against slights real and imagined. Of course, all is eventually happily resolved with just desserts given out to those deserving of them, just in time for a white Christmas eve.

Apart from being built around a smart and funny concept, The Shop Around The Corner is also a great showcase for the famous Lubitsch touch - mixing smart and sometimes cutting observations about people in their personal and professional lives with sweetly sentimental comedy and romance. It is all held together by an effortless comedic performance from James Stewart, an actor as capable of mastering a Lubitsch comedy here as he was the later Hitchcock psychodramas.

Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2010
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Romance blooms between two quarrelsome colleagues who are unaware they are penpals.
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Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Writer: Samson Raphaelson, Miklós László, Ben Hecht

Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Inez Courtney, Sarah Edwards, Edwin Maxwell, Charles Halton, Charles Smith, Charles Arnt, Joan Blair, Mary Carr

Year: 1940

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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