The Shop Around the Corner

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
With Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan.
US, 1940, 35mm, black & white, 100 min.
Print source: HFA

Though enshrined as Lubitsch’s most enduring crowd-pleaser, The Shop Around the Corner contains a few prominent qualities that make it an uncharacteristic work for the director. The film’s focus on the working class, though rooted in Lubitsch’s own biography, diverged from his usual affluent subjects, while its confinement largely to one location—an independently owned leather-goods store in Budapest in the weeks leading up to Christmas—stands out after the globetrotting of Ninotchka. And yet, these very deviations proved equally tailored to Lubitsch’s talents. The down-to-earth cast of characters, orbiting around shopkeeper Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan), his trusty clerk, Mr. Kralik (James Stewart), and newcomer employee Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), emanate the same wit and warmth that drives the director’s best comic creations, and the titular store serves as a perfect vehicle for ensemble interplay, as well as snappy changeovers between public and private identities. As the workplace adversaries who belatedly learn they are actually pen pal lovers, Stewart and Sullavan are superbly likable, commanding a series of lengthy two-shots that swerve between animosity and blossoming affection. It’s their chemistry that makes The Shop Around the Corner such a charming yuletide classic, even as Lubitsch simultaneously critiques the materialistic mentality of the season.

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