Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Before Tom Hanks romanced Meg Ryan through emails or Van Johnson sang and sent letters to Judy Garland, James Stewart was charming his way into a secret written relationship with Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner. Alfred Kralik (Stewart) is the head clerk at the small leather goods shop of Matuschek and Company located in Budapest. He's always had a great relationship with Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan), but lately his boss has been oddly cold toward him. It's Christmastime and a new clerk named Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) is hired after a display of impressive salesmanship. She and Kralik are at odds since their very first meeting, and it only seems to worsen as they work more together.

Kralik reveals to his good friend and coworker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) that he's been exchanging letters anonymously with a remarkable and intelligent woman who had placed an ad in the personals desiring a pen pal with which to talk about intellectual and cultural subjects (Kralik saw this as a cheap alternative to buying an encyclopedia). He falls in love with her over the course of several letters and eventually they set up a meeting, but Kralik sends Pirovitch in to make sure she isn't too pretty or too plain, only to find out that the woman waiting for him is Klara. Kralik is pretty torn between the real-life woman who hates him and the one on paper who loves him, and endeavors to establish better relations with Klara without telling her he's the mystery man. Meanwhile Mr Matuschek's depression and cruel behavior intensifies and no one knows why. But by Christmas, everyone at the shop comes together and makes their own happy endings.

This is a leisurely paced, multi-layered and engrossing love story and character study. It's witty and funny, but unlike a lot of comedic romances it successfully weaves in more serious issues of trust and loneliness. Stewart and Sullavan are marvelous as the leads, with fantastic and sharp conversations and unlikely chemistry. Klara is smart and independent but not cold, while Kralik is kind and a little dopey but clever. The supporting cast is funny and endearing, especially Felix Bressart. It's all shot with a softness and simplicity fitting for the theatre-based dialogue and action. The Budapest location sometimes feels a little off, with the obvious American-ness of the leads and varying accents of the others, but I think it's good the filmmakers stayed true to the play's original setting.

The Shop Around the Corner is a simple movie about regular people. No one is particularly glamorous, no one has too much or too little money, and no one is without flaws. It's relatable and charming without being over the top. Parts are surprisingly depressing, but I think that makes it well-rounded instead of overly sappy or shallow. Sometimes it can be a little slow, but that's not detrimental to the plot overall. Additionally, this movie features one of my favorite endings ever. The final scene with Klara and Kralik is just written and paced exquisitely. It's just a really wonderful movie.


My original artwork for this film is for sale.


  1. I like the normality in movies like this - it doesn't have to be crazy all the time.