Holiday Classics: “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940)

Soon after he wrapped filming his romantic comedy “The Shop Around the Corner”, director Ernst Lubitsch told a newspaper regarding the movie, “It’s not a big picture, just a quiet little story that seemed to have some charm….I hope it has some charm.” The film is, in fact, overwhelmingly charming, and is Lubitsch’s best work.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan get in the holiday spirit in “The Shop Around the Corner”

Perhaps one reason why the film is so well done is due to Lubitsch’s personal ties to the story. He used his experiences working in his father’s shop in Berlin to inform this story of a small Budapest gift shop and the people who work there. The store is owned by Hugo Matsuchek (Frank Morgan), and Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is his best salesman. One day, Kralik reveals to Matsucheck that he has been corresponding by mail with a very intelligent woman whose ad he saw in the paper. In walks Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), whom Matsuchek hires after she sells a cigarette box that Kralik doesn’t think the store should carry. Almost from the get-go, Kralik and Novak don’t get along, but unbeknownst to either of them, they are actually falling in love as one another’s pen pals.

“The Shop Around the Corner” boasts a wonderful cast and script, which includes some sharp exchanges between Kralik and Novak, and funny dialogue like the following:

Customer: How much is that belt in the window, the one that says “2.95”?

Kralik: 2.95

Customer: Oh no! *walks away*

But beneath all the comedy there’s a sense of melancholy to the story, as it addresses such darker topics as affairs, attempted suicide, loneliness, and fear of unemployment. All of these aspects actually make the characters more relatable, and we’ve probably all been in a similar situation as Kralik as he tries to reconcile his vision of the woman he’s been corresponding with the Miss Novak he knows in person. Fittingly, everything gets resolved on Christmas Eve, making this a great movie to watch at this time of year.

“The Shop Around the Corner” is available to rent or buy on all digital platforms. It is also airing on Turner Classic Movies on the following dates this holiday season:

Sunday, December 20th at 4 PM EST

Thursday, December 24th at 10 PM EST

Runtime: 99 minutes.

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