The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner is a practically perfect film, not only for Christmas but for any time you want to enjoy an intimate story, well written, beautifully photographed and sensitively acted.  On this viewing, I particularly noticed how quiet the movie is.  You will hear none of the obtrusive MGM sound that the studio often used to back up every scene.  The only background music is that provided by the band in the café.  And the only raised voices are a few angry outbursts of Frank Morgan (the shop owner) and when Jimmy Stewart fires the two-faced clerk.  Otherwise the voices are all barely above whispers, but that fits perfectly with the intimate world that the film creates. Notice how you can even hear the unfolding of the paper, when Stewart opens the ironic letter that both recommends him for a new job and fires him, or as he places his pencils on his sales book as he leaves the shop that has been his home for the last time.  Can you think of any film that so quickly establishes the essential traits of its characters as in the first few minutes of this film when the employees gather in front of the shop awaiting Mr. Matuschek?  And is there any more beautiful snowfall than the feathery flakes outside of the shop on Christmas Eve?  And, of course, what wonderful character actors!

PLOT SUMMARY

The small world of the Matuschek & Co. has been disrupted by an anxious boss, a conniving clerk, and a new employee (Klara), who bickers with the senior clerk (Kralik).  The clerk is falling in love with a young woman he has never met but only corresponded with as a pen pal.  On the same evening he has been planning to meet her for the first time, he is fired, and then he discovers that the anonymous woman is the employee with whom he has been bickering for months. The jealous boss learns that his wife has been having an affair with a different employee and attempts suicide.  He apologizes to Kralik and promotes him to manager.  On Christmas Eve he reveals himself to Klara, and all ends happily.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The final scene is set on Christmas Eve, with shoppers filling the store, employees heading off to Christmas celebrations, and the young lovers exchanging gifts.  The underlying tones of loneliness and despair that shade the film are reversed in the final scenes with joy and intimacy.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Charles Arnt (policeman out side the shop) appeared in yesterday’s film, Remember the Night, as Tom one of the townspeople.

Frank Morgan (Hugo Matuschek) is best known as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but he had a host of wonderful roles in the 1930s, including Saratoga (1937), The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937), The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Fairy (1935), which also starred Margaret Sullavan.

Joseph Schildkraut (Vadas) was a top-notch actor on Broadway before heading to Hollywood. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor as Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola (1937) and had a fine role in The Baroness and the Butler (1938), which starred William Powell. Later in his career, Schildkraut played the father, Otto Frank, in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

Sara Haden (Flora) has appeared twice earlier on our Christmas watch list in The Bishop’s Wife and The Great Rupert.

Felix Bressart (Pirovitch) is one of my favorite members of the Lubitsch stock company.  He has wonderful roles in To Be or Not to Be (1942) and Ninotchka (1939).

Sarah Edwards (shop customer) has appeared already in two films on our holiday list — The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and The Bishop’s Wife (1947) — and will be seen once more as Mary Hatch’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Edwin Maxwell (doctor) appeared in a wide range of classic favorites, such as The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), His Girl Friday (1940), Ninotchka (1939), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Duck Soup (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933) and Scarface (1932).

Charles Halton (detective) will be seen soon in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Among his other many film credits are  Gold Diggers of 1937, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), Room Service (1938), The Mad Miss Manton (1938), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), Sabouteur (1942), To Be or Not to Be (1942), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).

Charles Smith (Rudy) plays the teenager asking about Jimmy Cagney about the Variety headline “Hix Nix Stix Pix” in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He also appeared in The Major and the Minor (1942) and had an extended role as  Dizzy Stevens in the Henry Aldrich movies.

Claire Du Brey (shop customer) played one of the gossiping ladies in Michel’s in The Bishop’s Wife (1947) and a perfume buying customer in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). She also appeared in Now, Voyager (1942), Nothing Sacred (1937) and Topper (1937).  She plays a complaining traveler’s wife in the wonderful holiday short film Star in the Night (1945).

William Edmunds (waiter) will appear soon as Mr. Martini in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). We have seen him previously in Double Dynamite (1951). His other notable film credits include  The Great McGinty (1940) and Casablanca (1942).

Grace Hayle (customer buying the music box) played a society reporter in Gold Diggers of 1933 and had similar small roles in Theodora Goes Wild (1936), Topper (1937) and The Women (1939).

Mabel Colcord (Aunt Anna) plays the cook in Holiday (1938) and Hannah in Little Women (1933).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Frank Morgan had a decades-long relationship with Fred Astaire, starring in The Band Wagon on Broadway with Fred and Adele in 1931 and then two films with Fred — Broadway Melody of 1940 and Yolanda and the Thief (1945).

Grace Hayle appeared with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Roberta (1935) and Carefree (1938).

Sarah Edwards appeared with Astaire at the Actors Equity Benefit at the Metropolitan Opera on May 7, 1922.

William Edmunds appeared in vaudeville with the Astaires at Philadelphia’s Broadway theater the week of February 21, 1914.

Charles Smith appeared with Astaire in the film Second Chorus (1940).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

The many artists involved in making this film have created a world that you are sad to leave, because it promises intimate friendships, winsome humor, honest love, and simple hope, even after moments of disappointment and pain.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classis Movies will show The Shop Around the Corner on December 24 at 12:30 p.m. and again on January 29 at 4:45 p.m.