Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner; Romantic comedy, USA, 1940; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Frank Morgan, Sara Haden

Budapest. The old Matuschek heads a small shopping store that's getting through a hard time. He employs 6 people, among them the young Alfred Kralik who was reading a newspaper and stumbled upon an ad of an anonymous woman who is searching for a man of her life and started writing to her through the letters. But he doesn't know that the woman he is writing to is actually the new employee in his store, Klara Novak, who is going on his nerves. After Matuschek almost commits suicide when he discovers that his wife has been cheating on him with the employee Vadas, Kralik temporarily takes charge of the store and discovers that his pen-pal girl is actually Novak. When he reveals that to her they make up and become a couple.

After the hit film "You've Got Mail" from Nora Ephron many moviegoers became curious and wanted to find out more about the original film "The Shop Around the Corner" but some of them were left slightly puzzled. Namely, after the excellent comedy "Ninotschka" Ernst Lubitsch didn't manage too well in the story about a man and a woman who hate each other but don't know that they are actually anonymously writing love letters to each other. The iteration of humor doesn't work flawlessly and many actors are irritatingly hamming their roles. Only at moments does the story truly live up to her expectations and become inventive, like when Kralik discovered that Novak is actually his anonymous pen-pal girl: instead of revealing Novak the secret, he "accidentally" enters the restaurant where they were suppose to meet on a blind date and starts mischievously talking with her, much to her dismay since she is still expecting her "man of dreams". The next day he even writes her a letter saying: "I didn't want to meet with you because I saw you with a very handsome guy". There is an interesting point made in the story, the one about how people could learn to love each other only if they dropped their facade and get to know each other better, but it's a pity that the film is taking too little time to handle the "invisible" couple, concentrating more on the supporting characters, like when Matuschek discovered his wife is cheating on him with Vadas. That special spark is missing, but still, there are enough of quirky dialogues: in one scene, Kralik starts dictating a letter to Flora in front of Vadas: "To whom it may concern. Mr. Vadas has been in the employ of Matuschek & Company for the last two years, during which he has been very efficient as a stool pigeon, a troublemaker, and a rat". Vadas of course demonstrates: "Now look here!", but Kralik continues to dictate: "And if he doesn't clear out of here he's going to get a punch in the nose! Yours very truly, Alfred Kralik, Manager, Matuschek & Company."