It is only occasionally that a film ages with extraordinary grace. Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 classic,The Shop Around the Corner, has mellowed in the manner of a rare and prized bottle of Hungarian Tokaji Aszú...
|Balta Street, Budapest|
Set during Christmastime in the snow-dusted capital, the story follows a series of mix-ups and missteps between employees of a picturesque gift shop in the heart of the city. Two clerks carry on a battle-of-the-sexes while romantically pursuing anonymous pen pals; the shop owner suspects betrayal at home and at work; a duplicitous clerk is up to ugly mischief and a wisecracking errand boy has an eye for the main chance…
|Matuschek's gift shop|
A sparkling ensemble cast features several of MGM’s top supporting players. Among them is Frank Morgan in one of his most interesting roles as Mr. Matuschek, the colorful charmer who owns the gift shop. A somber turn in the subplot gives Morgan a chance to portray his character's darker emotions.
Peerless Felix Bressart plays the meek/endearing clerk, Pirovich. Versatile Joseph Schildkraut defines ‘loathsome’ as Vadas. Also in the featured cast are Sara Haden, William Tracy and Inez Courtney.
The legendary chemistry between stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan electrifies the screen. Stewart is at his most appealing as Mr. Kralik, head clerk and right hand man to Mr. Matuschek. In this role, Stewart's broad signature mannerisms are tempered by the sensitivity with which he portrays Kralik's romantic yearnings. And Sullavan mesmerizes in an equally fine performance. Her headstrong shop girl, Klara Novak, is a high-strung romantic whose breathless eagerness is offset by her brittle fragility.
With the closing scenes of The Shop Around the Corner, Lubitsch demonstrates his consummate finesse…
|Frank Morgan and Charles Smith|
When the shop's new errand boy, Rudy (Charles Smith), emerges, Matuschek takes him under his wing and out to a glorious Christmas dinner of roast goose, potatoes in butter…and “a double order of apple strudel in vanilla sauce.” The two, no longer facing a lonely Christmas Eve, strike up a jubilant rapport.
Inside the darkened shop, Stewart and Sullavan move in perfect harmony as Kralik and Klara finally discover each other. This last scene, one of the most deeply romantic and witty ever confected, demonstrates the very essence of Lubitsch’s incomparable “touch.”