The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – reviewed by George

Just a couple of weeks before I watched this movie, I saw the musical stage version, called “She Loves Me”. Please don’t think me prejudiced – but once again (“Bye Bye Birdie”, “Into the Woods”) I liked the stage version better. This situation is somewhat different –  here it’s solely actor/director decisions that swayed me. The original source for this tale is a stage play by Nikolaus Laszlo called “The Shop Around the Corner”. The plot is one of romantic confusion, namely, two coworkers who do not get along (he thinks her pushy and determined to embarrass him in front of the boss, she thinks him hidebound and protective of his spot in a shop where women are automatically thought of as less capable), but who are secret letter-lovers. They write to each other addressing the letters to “Dear Friend” and signing them “Your Friend”. The main attraction seems to be the anonymity of it all. If your secret friend is ugly or old, or may find you wanting in some way, you may never have to know. The way this begins? In Budapest, Hungary a young man answers this ad from the newspaper: “Modern girl wishes to correspond on cultural subjects anonymously with intelligent, sympathetic young man. Address: Dear Friend, Post Office 15, Box 237.”

In the stage play I saw, the male lead certainly did not like the female lead, but he was generally more fair in his treatment of her, and maintained a grudging gentlemanly politeness. In the film Jimmy Stewart, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, is strident and rude. Which leads me to question what I have always heard and accepted – that Ernst Lubitsch had a quality, “the Lubitsch Touch”. I thought of this as Lubitsch’s way of looking at romance like a kindly old uncle gently encouraging couples to overlook warts and to see the fine qualities of their partners: an airy, almost ethereal approach to matters of the heart. And in other of his films the “Touch” is evident. Here he and Stewart have made decisions I simply do not like.

Margaret Sullavan comes across nicely as the girl, and Frank Morgan is good as the owner/boss, as are Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, and Inez Courtney as the other employees. And there are many scenes and confusions to like, but they all flow from the script. As minor Lubitsch this is still worth a look, but I think you should be on the lookout for the musical in case it plays in a local theater, or you could try MGM’s own musical remake, “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) with Judy Garland and Van Johnson as the correspondents, and S.Z. Sakall as the boss.

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