Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jimmy Stewart is in The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner; James Stewart 1940

My heart was trembling as I walked into the post office. There you were lying
James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan
8x10" Photo
in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there. Oh, my dear friend.

Wow, right there in the post office. You see, this modern girl wanted to correspond on cultural subjects anonymously with an intelligent, sympathetic young man. So she put an ad in the personals section of the classifieds.

An adaptation of a Hungarian play by Miklós László called Parfumerie, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is set in Budapest, Hungary.

It's directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The lady and gentleman who are corresponding are Miss Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and Mr. Alfred Kralik (James Stewart). Coincidentally they're both working at Matuschek and Company but neither has
realized that they are one another's anonymous Dear Friends. 

This is the only film that Stewart made with the director. Lubitsch said he felt very lucky to get Stewart for the role and he'd had him in mind when creating the screenplay. 

DeMille's head researcher obtained inventory from a Budapest leather store for the movie.
-- info from Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise, by Scott Eyman

Alfred Kralik: [asking Pirovitch about cost of living for married couple] Suppose a fellow gets an apartment with three rooms. Dining room, bedroom, living room.

Pirovitch: What do you need three rooms for? You live in the bedroom.

Alfred Kralik: Where do you eat?

Pirovitch: In the kitchen. You get a nice big kitchen.

Alfred Kralik: Where do you entertain?

Pirovitch: Entertain? What are you, an ambassador? Who do you want to entertain? Listen, if someone is really your friend, he comes after dinner.

Director Ernst Lubitsch appears in the trailer for the film.

At Christmastime in the small shop, you see the interpersonal relationships between coworkers and the hierarchical relationships that can happen. In this holiday movie Stewart doesn't run down the street shouting in happiness, but he doesn't have to do that. You're left happy knowing that an everyday life experience can lead to something wonderful, too. 

This was a relatively early film for Stewart, before It's a Wonderful Life (1946). It came shortly before The Philadelphia Story, but was released the same year. I read that this film took only a matter of weeks to create and that it was shot in the order that the scenes run, like a play. That's not very common with a film.

Alfred Kralik: Pirovitch, did you ever get a bonus?

Pirovitch: Yes, once.

Alfred Kralik: Yeah. The boss hands you the envelope. You wonder how much is in it, and you don't want to open it. As long as the envelope's closed, you're a millionaire. 

Friendships, romantic and family relationships are at its heart as is the idea of fantasy vs. reality. There's the fantasy relationship Miss Novak and Mr. Kralik are having through their Dear Friend correspondence. But then there are their interactions in person at the shop.

Klara Novak (Miss Novak): All my knowledge came from books, and I'd just
The Shop Around the Corner
finished a novel about a glamorous French actress from the Comedie Francaise. That's the theater in France. When she wanted to arouse a man's interest, she treated him like a dog.

Alfred Kralik: Yes, well, you treated me like a dog.

Klara Novak: Yes, but instead of licking my hand, you barked. See my mistake was I didn't realize the difference between this glamorous lady and me was she was with the Comedie Francaise and I was with Matuschek and Company.

They chose to keep Budapest, Hungary as the setting. Though the characters and the plot may appear very familiar, for most viewers this is not "around the corner." 

The place is a bit of a Neverland, you'll find it around any corner you imagine. The characters speak English. The shop has half-English, half-Hungarian signs. These people are we'd like to meet. They're who we'd like to be even with their quirks.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's 2014 film, drew inspiration from early films of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. "I think our Budapest is connected to the Budapest in Shop Around the Corner. ... Our movie is set in an Eastern European city but it’s a city filtered through movies.” Bill Murray has said.

"'Anderson had set up a research room in the hotel in Görlitz, Germany, where the Grand Budapest cast and crew were staying: books about old hotels, clothing, and objects, and then this stack of movies,' [Jeff] Goldblum says. 'There was Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not to Be and Grand Hotel, of course.'"
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer March 12, 2014

Bill Murray is Monsieur Ivan and Goldblum is Deputy Vilmos Kovacs in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Margaret Sullavan (Klara Novak) made four of her sixteen films with Jimmy Stewart  between 1936-1940. They made Next Time We Love, The Shopworn Angel, The Shop Around the Corner and The Mortal Storm.  

Klara Novak: In those first few weeks there were moments in the stockroom where you could have swept me off my feet.

The supporting cast is believable as a group that's worked together for a long time. Frank Morgan is Hugo Matuschek, the store owner. He's recognized as The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz from 1939, where he played five roles in The Wizard of Oz.

Joseph Schildkraut is Ferencz Vadas. Schildkraut won an Oscar for his role in The Life of Emile Zola (1937). Edwin Maxwell is the Doctor. He was also a
Jimmy Stewart
gets rid of bad guy
doctor, Dr Waitz in Grand Hotel

Charles Halton, the private detective also played Carter, a bank examiner in It's a Wonderful Life.

Felix Bressart (Pirovitch) appeared in other Lubitsch films such as Ninotchka with Greta Garbo (he is Buljanov) & To Be or Not to Be (1942) which starred Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. It was Lombard's final film.

Charles Smith who plays young Rudy also has a small part in a Shop Around the Corner remake, In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. He's one of the quartet singing with Garland at the engagement party. 

Klara Novak: Psychologically, I'm very confused... But personally, I don't feel bad at all. 

Another well-known remake of this movie is You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Some of my friends prefer this one partly because it's set in a bookshop. The characters are surrounded by books and talk about books more so than in the Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan version.

The store where Meg Ryan works is called The Shop Around the Corner and Nora Ephron's film is a real homage to Lubitsch's movie. It reminds me of the way Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember are so complementary.

Alfred Kralik: Miss Novak although I'm the victim of your remark, I can't help admiring the exquisite way you have of expressing yourself. You certainly know how to put a man in his planet.

In Haywire by Sullavan's daughter, Brooke Hayward, James Stewart is quoted...

"The longest number of takes I ever did in the movies was forty-eight takes with your mother in The Shop Around the Corner. We were in a little restaurant and I had a line, 'I will come out on the street and I will roll up my trousers to my knees.' For some reason I couldn't say the line. You mother was furious.  ....

"'I don't want to act today; get a fellow with decent legs and just show them.' Your mother said, 'Then I absolutely refuse to be in this picture.' So we did more takes."

Another complementary film to this one and its remake You've Got Mail is 84 Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. There's a review in an earlier post. Speaking of Lubitsch, Bancroft and her husband Mel Brooks, did a remake of his To Be or Not to Be.

A musical theater version. She Loves Me garnered Tony Awards for the leading men both in the 1964 original for Jack Cassidy and the 1993 revival for Boyd Gaines. Songs included Mr. Novack, Will You Please?; Where's My Shoe?, I Don't Know His Name, 12 Days of Christmas and as you might guess a song titled, Dear Friend.

Why not get the DVD or download this delightful film. You'll probably watch it again at least once, at the end of year.

Then pick up a copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and use a red carnation for a bookmark. Go to a local cafe, place the book on the table and watch the movie. You never know what wonderful dear friend might show up with a similar carnation.

"I see you're reading Anna Karenina."

The Shop Around the Corner was inducted into the National Film Registry Film Preservation Board

The Philadelphia Story Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Cary Grant : Features of the Romantic Comedy; Screwball comedy and Comedy of Remarriage

Haywire (by Brooke Hayward) This was also made into a film with Lee Remick. 

Dressing Male Film Stars of the 1930s-1950s, Bring your own clothes, Tax Deductions

This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here.


  1. Surprisingly, it took me awhile to fully appreciate this classic romance. I'm not sure why, but now I'm justly charmed by how it subtly casts its spell and brings two soulmates--who mask their inner feelings--together. It helps, too, when the supporting cast includes Frank Morgan (one of his finest roles) and the under-appreciated Joseph Schildkraut. By the way, I love the quotes you selected from the film.

    1. Thanks for the comment; I agree with you. It came before 'It's a Wonderful Life' and tends to get overshadowed but that's apples and oranges. The different directors, screenwriters, the styles are different but they're both great movies.

  2. Charming review of a charming film. It is one of those movies you live in - a place you're always happy to visit.

    1. Thanks. I stumbled upon this movie and was so happy that I did. It's one that we watch over and over.

  3. I adore this film - and your most charming post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, it's one of those non-traditional holiday films. You can watch it at Christmas or any time.

  4. Great review! I loved how you sparkled quotes in the text to make it richer. I'd love to show up in a cafe with Anna Karenina and a carnation, even if I don't meet anybody there!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)


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