Alternative cinema for big kids: The Shop Around the Corner

Oh, have I got a gem for you today. Have you seen it? The Shop Around the Corner is a terrific 1940 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Maureen Sullavan.  Directed by Hungarian Ernst Lubitch while he was in exile from his country, it feels like a sweet tribute to the ordinary life whose loss he must have been mourning. I can't help imagining what an enjoyable oasis of a movie it was, there in the dark days of WWII.  It was based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie and in turn inspired the movies In the Good Old Summertime (a 1949 musical starring Judy Garland) and the 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail (in fact, remember how Meg Ryan's book store was even called The Shop Around the Corner?) as well as the musical She Loves Me

Budapest store clerk Alfred and newly hired shopgirl Clara despise each other almost at first sight, not realizing they are secretly falling in love with each other as mysterious penpals. That's not a spoiler; it's pretty obvious from the start (and if you've already seen You've Got Mail you know that part already anyway) but the sweet story and its multiple subplots and characters in the little universe of the Hungarian shop keep the film moving along in an engaging way. And its themes of loneliness and heartache are lightened by many doses of comic relief. Maddy and I watched it together a few weekends ago when the boys were both gone and we both loved it (but I think the boys would enjoyed it, too).

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Admittedly, we're not the first ones to love it. It's listed on Time's list of all-time top 100 movies among many more favorites lists. Film critic Pauline Kael said that The Shop Around the Corner is "as close to perfection as a movie made by mortals is ever likely to be" and called it "an airy wonder with steel underpinnings" (via this essay).

The Shop Around the Corner is not rated but I'm fairly certain it would get a PG. (See the parent guide here.)

  • Received 100% on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
  • Probably for ages 10 and up (but check the parent guide, above)
  • If you loved You've Got Mail or It's a Wonderful Life, this one's for you
  • Fun fact: "To make sure his film was stripped of the glamor usually associated with him, Lubitsch went to such lengths as ordering that a dress Sullavan had purchased off the rack for $1.98 be left in the sun to bleach and altered to fit poorly" (via IMBD)
  • And, hey, if you have a nice stretch of time, why not turn it into a marathon of all three movies--The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You've Got Mail