Who but Ernst Lubitsch could have pulled off such a winning romantic-comedy classic that dares to include, but is not marred by, such tragic undercurrents, with a frank subplot involving adultery, attempted suicide, and the collapse of a marriage?
The delicacy and sureness of the "Lubitsch touch" may never have been more crucial to the success of any picture than The Shop Around the Corner, a delightful film with an excellent ensemble cast led by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan and a classic mistaken-identity premise that has inspired a number of lesser films (notably the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vehicle You’ve Got Mail, which acknowledged the source of its inspiration in the name of Ryan’s bookstore, "The Shop Around the Corner").
The shop in Shop is Matuschek & Co., a retail shop inexplicably set in Budapest, where the largely American cast have names like Kralik (Stewart), Klara (Sullavan), and Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Head clerk Kralik is Matuschek’s dependable right-hand man, but he gets off on the wrong foot with the unemployed Klara, who’s looking for a job and surprises Kralik by getting herself hired by Matuschek.
Sparks of one sort are soon flying between Kralik and Klara, who rub the other the wrong way in person — yet a second, anonymous connection (via a lonely-hearts ad) generates sparks of another sort.
With consummate deftness, Lubitsch scratches the surface of ordinary characters and circumstances and reveals the reality behind the deceptive appearances — the substance and doubts beneath the vain posturing, the false heart behind the smiling face, the poetic soul behind the prosaic demeanor — and serves all of it up with soufflé-like lightness.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.