This week we watched Jimmy Stewart’s other Christmas movie: The Shop Around the Corner. You might not know the name, but if you were alive and watching movies in the late ’90s, I guarantee the premise will be familiar to you. Why? Well, Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 classic about at-odds shop workers in love with their anonymous pen pals was one inspiration for Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail.
But before I get into all of that, Annemarie, kick us off. What did you think of The Shop Around the Corner? Why did I make you watch it? Do you also find Jimmy Stewart rather swoon-y in this picture?
AM: I mean, it’s Jimmy Stewart at his Everyman Heartthrob best, it takes place mostly at Christmas and it’s got the rat-tat-tat dialogue pace of a Gilmore Girls episode. Of course I loved it! Swoon-y is a good word for it. He’s handsome, charmingly rakish and also a pretty big sweetheart.
I have two minor qualms with this film. First, I am a bit perplexed why this takes place in Budapest. The signage and all printed words on-screen were in Hungarian, but like many movies set in foreign countries during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the actors don’t speak Hungarian (or have an accent, for that matter). I get it to a certain degree, the question is sort of why isn’t the movie set in Budapest? Why not? However, the location doesn’t factor into the plot at all, which is what I wanted and was missing. All films don’t have to be set in New York City, but there’s just a sense of place that I was missing here. It could have been Nebraska, or Nova Scotia or Scotland.
My other qualm is the same one I have with the otherwise adorable You’ve Got Mail. I think it’s the height of jerkiness to stand up a girl in a cafe, then pretend like you’re not the mysterious pen pal suitor. It’s not fair that he knows and she doesn’t. In both films, the woman forgives the man without even considering to be mad, but I can tell you I’d be pissed if a dude did that to me. Not that I wouldn’t move on from it as the intentions weren’t cruel, but it’s more manipulative than it had to be. Brooke, we should remake this story but have the woman the one who fools the man. I feel like Ryan Reynolds would be good for our male lead, and Emma Stone for the female lead. Thoughts?
I am now going to guess why you love this movie: the aforementioned Swoon-y Stewart, the quickly paced dialogue and the feisty heroine. Plus: it’s in black and white. And set during Christmas, which I know you also love. I also know you love a good caper and a fabulous best friend (here played by Felix Bressart). What else?
Also, what’s your favorite scene? What book would you bring to a blind date to indicate it was you he was meeting? How would you have taken the deception? And would you use the fancy box as a cigarette or candy holder?
B: The Budapest question is a very good one. It’s curious that we hear SO very much about the location, but the film quite ignores the political climate of the time. I do have a theory though — TCM tells me the movie is based on a 1937 Hungarian play called Parfumerie, so I’m guessing they kept the town and most of the plot points and then did what they would with the story, and shot in English, cause: Golden Age. Still, I can’t brood on this too much because I really quite like all of the names. Matuschek! Kralik! Novak!
I can’t narrow my favorite scene down to one moment. There are a number that come to mind, but the top two are as follows. The first and more obvious would be when Kralik attempts to convince Clara to buy her lover a wallet instead of the “Ochi Chërnye” cigarette box. There is something devastatingly romantic about the idea that he wants a wallet in which he could proudly display her latest love letter and a snapshot of her. It’s a sweet, simple notion that betrays the tenderness he puts into his letters.
The second has nothing to do with our main players, but it brings a bit of mist to my eyes every single time. Near the end of the movie, when everyone has left the shop and is off to meet their families and dates for the holiday Mr. Matuschek is left quite alone. He inquires after many of them, clearly longing for some companionship as he’s looking down the barrel of his first Christmas alone in a long while. Finally, he gets chatting to Rudy, the new errand boy who he has only just met for the first time. He tells Rudy what a wonderful age 17 is (with a wistful gaze that suggests he’s wondering what he would do differently given the chance) and, upon discovering that Rudy has no family to go home to, he invites him to an elaborate dinner, rattling off courses that had the both of us practically drooling. The idea that Rudy and Mr. Matuschek can find some cheer and companionship in one another is almost too heartwarming. So yeah, you pretty much nailed why I love this movie.
I think I would go the Meg Ryan route and take an Austen tome to the blind date — or perhaps I would go even more dramatic and bring out Gone with the Wind. Whatever it was, it would NOT be Anna Karenina — that book ends on far too tragic a note. I will admit that the scene with the farmer who has been rejected by the girl he loves, only for her to realize her mistake and they reconcile over an alphabet block is really wonderful. But, I still think Sense and Sensibility is more in the spirit for such a date. I mean, Klara expects to come out of this thing ENGAGED.
Like you AM, I would not take the deception lightly. I can appreciate what he ultimately was going for, but the standing up at a cafe and the sneaking around, it gives him such a greater power over the entire situation. I would like to think I would find it in myself to see the bigger picture and forgive him, but I’m also quite sure it would require the most epic letter he’d yet written to fully bring me around. So, yes, I am absolutely on board for this remake idea. At first blush, our beloved Emma Stone seemed the perfect choice to me, but try this on for size: Alicia Vikander.
Vikander is a powerhouse performer and I think she could bring some real emotional heft to the piece. I know the audience could still love Emma in the end, but I’d be fascinated to see a slightly more risky choice in play. I do think Ryan Reynolds could go opposite either of these ladies quite successfully, he does charm very, very well. I could also see someone like Michael B. Jordan or a Josh Hutcherson taking a shot at this. We’ll just have to screen test the lot of them.
Oh, and as to your most important question. I would not use the box for cigarettes OR candy. I would use it to store my sultry handwritten love letters from the mystery boy, of course. Then I would know every single time someone tried to bust in and read my stuff. I would let you in on all the deets, AM, but not everyone would be so lucky.
Let us in on your favorite scene. Do you have a favorite barb that passed betwixt our quarreling lovers? What’s your take on the subplot about Mr. Matuschek and his cheating wife? What errand would you send Pepe on?
A: I also share a fondness for both scenes you mention, and I also love the beginning when Pirovitch bolts every time Mr. Matuschek wants someone to share his or her opinion with him. PANIC! It’s great comedy and quickly establishes his character. As for my favorite barb, I love this exchange in the locker room:
Klara: All my knowledge came from books, and I’d just 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.
Kralik: Yes, well, you treated me like a dog.
Klara: Yes, but instead of licking my hand, you barked.
I know it’s this witty repartee that makes this film a classic, but also, it’s the type of thing that’s still extremely enjoyable to watch all these years later. I am struck by how Klara doesn’t seem to have any trouble slinging barbs but Meg Ryan’s character says more than once that she’s just no good at the comeback line and only can think of what she should say in a situation hours later. Even though You’ve Got Mail is also excellent, I feel the original was a better character attribute in our female lead.
The cheating wife and subsequent attempted suicide thing kind of threw me, to be honest. It was darker and more real than I had expected for this movie, but I do appreciate that Pepe got to be the hero. He’s sort of obnoxious but he does deserve the promotion he half earns and half cajoles out of the situation. I could honestly use a whole army of Pepes in order to have my dream of employing a personal assistant, personal chef, chauffeur, personal trainer and stylist. But if I only had one Pepe, I’d definitely send him to Target. I love that place, but it’s the most dangerous store on earth.
I like Alicia for the heroine in this remake, I think my most important requirement is that our leading lady not immediately forgive the deception that’s central to this plot. And I also like letters for the musical box, instead of cigarettes or candy. I can also see it being a jewelry holder, perhaps for earrings?
Classic literature is always appropriate for romantic rendez-vous with strange gentlemen, and Jane Austen does provide a heavy dose of the right mood. I’m also fond of The Secret Garden, again for that romantic, mysterious vibe.
Where does this rank in terms of favorite holiday movies, Brooke? I know we’ve committed to our Top 25 already, but I am curious if this is something you love more or less than The Holiday?
B: Daaaaaaaaamn, AM, coming out with the big questions! I’ve watched this movie every Christmas season since I discovered it in college. To be clear, my film professors never assigned anything so light, I just found it during a dog-sitting gig while browsing TCM. I always look forward to it and would place it solidly among my favorite holiday films, but no, I cannot say I love it more than The Holiday (#10 on my Top 25 list). I think the difference is that the very moment I finish watching The Holiday I want to watch it again. With The Shop Around the Corner, I like having a lengthy stretch of time between viewings. The absence of this quaint world from my everyday life makes it special to come back to once in a great while.
I think we’re on our way to a great remake, we just need to get Hollywood on the line. Call us, guys! I think we’ve done quite a fine job of unpacking our thoughts on this holiday treat. Do you have any final thoughts for us before we continue on our holiday classics binge?
A: I believe that’s all I have to say. I also found much delight in this film but I fully understand your reasons for only wanting to watch it annually (and only once a year). Even though you didn’t ask, I’d place it in the Top 25 Favorite Holiday Films, but I do have so so many in that category that it’s hard to imagine it being in my Top 10… but that’s another post for another day!
Join us next week when we watch something special… TV holiday specials from the late 1980s, to be exact. I have a sudden craving for lasagne and wassail, but I can’t imagine why. Don’t miss it!