It is the most wonderful time of the year! Holiday films are popping up on all of the movie channels. It is a great time to watch some classic Christmas stories while spending time with family. Turner Classic Movies features some of the best holiday films during their November and December schedules. The Shop Around the Corner is one of the great seasonal stories that features charming individuals and serves as a reminder of what the holidays are all about.
The Shop Around the Corner premiered in the winter of 1940. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it stars Jimmy Stewart as Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak. The plot takes place in a small shop in Budapest, Hungary. Alfred and Klara are pen pals who fall in love through their letters to one another. Because the letters are anonymous, neither has any idea that they actually work in the shop together. Ironically, Alfred and Klara despise each other in real life. The story follows the relationship of the two as well as the rest of the characters that are employed in the shop. It is a classic Golden Age romantic comedy with timeless and universal themes.
Jimmy Stewart was born to play these kinds of roles. His character, Alfred Kralik, has the audience’s attention throughout the entire film. He is the one that everyone roots for. Margaret Sullavan plays the perfect female lead opposite Stewart. She is funny and intelligent. Sullavan is not a “sex symbol” as some other Old Hollywood actresses were called. Her simplicity adds to how special and meaningful this film is. Apparently, Lubitsch was so insistent on having Stewart and Sullavan as the leading roles that he delayed shooting until they were both available. The chemistry between the two may be attributed to the fact that Stewart and Sullavan were long-time friends prior to the making of the film. Both of them feed off of each other’s charm and quick wit. However, unlike many formulaic romantic comedies, all of the characters are given depth. My favorite supporting actor was Felix Bressart who played Pirovitch. He is a humble family man who truly cares about his friends. He frequently acts as Alfred Kralik’s right-hand man. Every single character has his or her place within the film and adds value to the overall story.
Although this film is nostalgic and romantic, there is a very real and serious element to it. One of the main characters, Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan), discovers that his wife is having an affair. He tries to commit suicide, but luckily one of his employees prevents him from doing so. Mr. Matuschek suffers from loneliness, but realizes that he can be fulfilled through acts of humanity. At the end of the film, he offers a Christmas feast to the new errand boy who has no family to celebrate with. This moment is touching and acknowledges the true “holiday spirit.” The universal love for this film is a credit to its ability to reach to all audiences, no matter who might be watching.
The importance of family and love shines through in The Shop Around the Corner. Even though the employees at the shop are not related, they resemble a family. They quarrel but also rely on each other. They get lonely but love reminds them of what they have. Life has its ups and downs, but sometimes the positive notes are so great that they can outweigh any negativity. After finishing the film Ernst Lubitsch said, “It’s not a big picture, just a quiet little story that seemed to have some charm. It didn’t cost very much, for such a cast, under $500,000. It was made in twenty-eight days. I hope it has some charm.” I believe the reason this film continues to be an annual holiday classic is because of its simplicity and honesty.
I highly recommend The Shop Around the Corner. If you have seen it or if you have any questions, feel free to comment below!
This film is not rated.