The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

Resoundingly pleasant, The Shop Around the Corner does not have any cockeyed ambition other than to please. And it succeeds as such, even as the film treads upon safe narrative water. The film is set in a small boutique located in Budapest. The locale is really inconsequential to the film’s narrative, other than to offer one negative character (the evil foreigner!). The cast of characters in the shop are of a genial nature – looking after each other even as economic difficulties surface. The central figure is Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), a clerk at Matuschek & Co. He has worked there for several years, working his way up in the eyes of the boss. He is lovelorn, though has maintained a relationship with a girl through a series of lonely heart column exchanges. The letters that Kralik and his mystery girl serve to address their positions in a world where love is hard to come by.

The script is both the film’s strongest and weakest aspect. The premise itself is rather ingenious, with some out of the ordinary developments that played with my expectations. But as the film progresses, it almost felt like the need to reach a neatly wrapped conclusion was bearing down on the writers, to the point that they made the last portion of the film play out like any other comedy of its type. To its credit, the writers placed the female lead, Margaret Sullivan, on an even keel with Stewart, to the point that the two were exchanging insults in rapid succession. It’s still a very good film, despite its clunky conclusion.