10 July 2008

The Shop Around the Corner by Lubitsch, 1940

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:26 am



  1. You’ve got mail, right? But I’ve never seen this one, so I ask, does Stewart (who in his younger years looked beautifully like John Dall, I reckon) own the Big Bad Enterprise and she, Margaret Sullivan, the hole-in-the-wall book shoppe?


    Comment by Seyfried — 10 July 2008 @ 11:16 am

  2. Hey Seyfried. They both work for the same shop, which sells tchatchkes rather than books. Jimmy Stewart is 2nd in charge, and Margaret Sullavan is a clerk. The dynamic is similar: Jimmy is all business, and Margaret thinks him a crass boor. But we don’t get the propaganda that the big corporation will love you after it takes you over. At one point Margaret is trying to persuade Jimmy to give her the evening off so she can make her rendezvous with her anonymous pen pal. She’s being especially nice to him, and when he asks why she says something like, “I try to please you Mr. Kralik; after all, I work under you.” The story is set in Budapest, which I think is director Ernst Lubitsh’s home town, so all the characters have Hungarian names. Quaint and sweet, not really kitschy, and superior to the remake, we all agreed here.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 July 2008 @ 11:35 am

  3. Here’s a quote from Margaret Sullavan:

    Most actors are basically neurotic people. Terribly, terribly unhappy. That’s one of the reasons they become actors. Nobody well adjusted would ever want to expose himself or herself to a large group of strangers. Think of it. Insanity! Generally, by their very nature – that is if they’re at all dedicated – actors do not make good parents. They are altogether egotistical and selfish. The better the actor – and I hate to say it, the bigger the star – why, the more that seems to be true. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever known one – not one! – star who was successfully able to combine a career and family life.

    Ms. Sullavan married four times and died of an intentional overdose of pills.

    On an ironically related note, in order for her pen pal to know who she is, she waits at the cafe with a carnation stuck between the pages of a book placed in front of her on the table. The book is Anna Karenina.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 July 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  4. Anna Karenina principle – we know that one all too well, don’t we? Fortunately, we can extend thought that Stewart’s allowed to be a crass boor because nobody could bear to know how much of an effervescent gent he really is. I’d love to see the Hanks one approach delirium (on Ryan’s part, no doubt)….however, as you suggest, they make Hanks such a lovable, provincial owner even in spite of conceited self-interests.

    Still, I hear the denouement is simply touching. This one, that is.


    Comment by Seyfried — 11 July 2008 @ 6:03 am

  5. I haven’t seen this. Will have to give it a viewing.


    Comment by Erdman — 11 July 2008 @ 7:26 am

  6. You’re right, Seyfried: we know Stewart is a nice guy, and Hanks too, so the denouement is predetermined by central casting. But this was the era of wonderful character actors, which is kind of what Jimmy Stewart always is. The boss in the shop is the guy who plays the Wizard of Oz, but here he’s more understated yet with that same undertone of pathos. Another guy in the shop I”d never seen before that I know of, with an authentic Germano-Hungarian accent, is very fine indeed. So yes, Erdman, I recommend, and it doesn’t have that chick flick formulaic version of romance we’ve seen so much in recent decades.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 July 2008 @ 5:55 pm

  7. The Jimmy Stewart character is the corporate management type: a sober, rational agent who makes sound decisions on behalf of the owner. The Margaret Sullavan character is the marketing type, playing on customers’ emotions and needs to get them to buy things. Presumably it takes both types to run a profitable enterprise, but these two types hate each other. Why? Because for each of them the other constitutes the repressed part of themselves, but corrupted in the service of profit. And in this story the business is faltering: Margaret uses her sales charm to persuade the boss to overstock an item that nobody wants, and the biggest male schmoozer in the store’s employ turns out to be having an affair with the boss’ wife. Straightforward honesty is in short supply, and both business and personal lives suffer because of it. In the end honesty is restored AND sales go up AND staff morale skyrockets. Okay, so it’s still propaganda for neoliberalism.

    In the “You’ve Got Mail” remake, the Tom Hanks character admires the personal passion of the Meg Ryan character. He keeps her shop under surveillance, he knows her sales numbers, he stalks her on the internet. And he’s able successfully to incorporate her personal touch in the kiddies’ section of his Barnes & Noblesse superstore while simultaneously putting her out of business. He out-passions the passionista by simulating her. And in the end he’s successful in directing her passion toward himself: he’s put her under, and she’s grown to love it. By the end you wonder if Meg is going to take a job as head of the children’s section in Tom’s superstore.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 July 2008 @ 7:46 am

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