Film Review: The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner is rarely bracketed in the same echelon as other Holiday classics. The film should be, however, as it features all the requisite elements of a Christmas classic; a heart-warming story, great chemistry, laughter and romance, as well as the obligatory dash of schmaltz.

Alfred Kralik is a long-standing employee at a Budapest gift shop. When new girl Clara starts working at the shop, the pair takes an instant dislike to one another. Both are unaware that they are pen pals, enjoying an anonymous relationship via letters…

Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 classic is as enjoyable seventy years on; the film has aged remarkably well. This is unquestionably due to the fantastic script by Samson Raphaelson, based on Nikolaus Laszlo’s play. The screenplay features light-hearted comedy, and some great banter between the leading pair.

The film was remade in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail, a vehicle for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Interestingly, Shop Around the Corner only feels dated in the method of correspondence – pen pals from a newspaper advert. Equally, however, You’ve Got Mail seems dated for this very same reason; the tone of the dial-up internet connection appears almost nostalgic now.

The themes focused upon by Shop Around the Corner are, of course, enduring. The deception of first appearances, the desire for a lasting love, and the hierarchy of a workplace are as pertinent now as they were seventy years ago. Indeed, with the employment woes faced by some of the characters, the film seems increasingly relevant to modern audiences.

A particular highlight of The Shop Around the Corner is the well-crafted characters. Pirovitch is earnest and a good friend to Kralik; the antithesis of the smarmy Vadas. Matuschek is both a kind-hearted boss and wildly impulsive. Errand boy Pepi is fun and enthusiastic, bringing a number of the laughs, particularly in later scenes.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan exhibit great chemistry in the film as Kralik and Clara. James Stewart is playing a typical ‘James Stewart’ character, but is charming and natural while doing so. Sullavan displays a feistiness that is engaging and at times humorous. Felix Bressart is well cast as Pirovitch, and William Tracy brings liveliness to Pepi.

The Shop Around the Corner is a wonderful example of 1940s cinema. It exhibits the power of a great script and well-written characters, something that seems to appear less frequently in contemporary Hollywood. The Shop Around the Corner is both timeless and timely, a perfect dose of seasonal escapism.

The Shop Around the Corner is being screened at the British Institute, Filmhouse, Edinburgh and the Irish Film Institute, Dublin in December 2010.