1940 / Director. Ernst Lubitsch.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is one of the great romance films. It was directed by the legendary Ernst Lubitsch and was tailer specifically as a vehicle for James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It tells the story of two bickering store clerks working in the same department store who are unaware that they are anonymous pen pals with each other. While falling deeper in love as each letter passes, they become stronger foes in person. If the story sounds familiar that is because the film was loosely remade as YOU'VE GOT MAIL with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This original is a lovely story. Based on a play the film marks a very modest turn for director Ernest Lubitsch, who was renowned for highly extravagant pictures. Set almost entirely in one location with a bare-bones set design, Lubitsch relied on strong writing and seasoned performers to sell the story. All of the players are wonderful and the chemistry between them all is fantastic. If you can imagine the television series ARE YOU BEING SERVED with a beautiful romance at its core then you get the idea. Sullavan and Steward share a great chemistry, which they exploited in 4 films together. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was their third partnership and the connection they had previously established is well set. The dialogue is funny (often hilarious) and the overall narrative is crammed with charm and an abundance of charisma and yet resists so many obvious tropes. Despite knowing how it is all going to work out the story takes all matters of turns, which delve into a whole variety of personal dilemmas. Anxieties, depressions and inner turmoils are all key ingredients that go into making the film stand out above the average romances and a rather brave subplot of suicide also grounds the story with an unexpected sensibility. What I love most about the film is that every character is important. Our two protagonists are surrounded by colleagues who all have their own stories and all factor in to everything that unfolds. It's such a well written film. The oddest thing is that the story takes place in Budapest, Hungary. The exterior set designs look like an American city and most of the actors are also American... and yet various signage within the store is written in Hungarian. It is a very odd quality to the film and it even confused movie-goers at the time of its release. It is believed that Ernst Lubitsch wanted the film to have a fantastical otherworldly and romantic quality about it. He drew upon his own memories of Budapest as a child and decided to set the story there without any explanation. It is a very peculiar thing and yet it still works. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is an absolute classic that stands up well 75 years later.