Romance at Christmastime: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Every year there are movies that straddle the line between being an actual Christmas movie and a movie that has Christmas elements. The Shop Around the Corner is the latter. By no means is it a traditional Christmas movie, however, over the years, audiences have flocked to the movie during the Christmas season. I, myself, am in that audience. The ending of Shop warms your heart with love and Christmas cheer, not to mention it's an all-around great film.
Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) works at a shop in Budapest called Matuschek and Company. He’s a hard worker and comes off a bit stern and mean but it’s because he cares so much about his job and his boss that he wants everything to go smoothly. Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) is a fun loving girl who also works at Matuschek and Company. She and Kralik do not get along and passive aggressiveness looms through their work days. The two butt heads and disagree on almost everything. Coincidentally, both Stewart and Sullivan are involved with their own romantic feelings for their corresponding (and anonymous) pen pals.
Unfortunately, Kralik is abruptly fired after having a tiff with Mr. Matuschek, regarding the employees needing to stay late to decorate for the Christmas holiday. And yet, Kralik doesn’t let this get the best of him and he plans to meet up with his mysterious, pen-pal love interest. To Kralik’s surprise, the anonymous pen-pal he’s set to meet in the cafe was none other than Ms. Novak as she dons a red carnation Kralik said to wear in a letter.
Being a classic Hollywood film and not wanting to give out too much information, you can probably guess how The Shop Around the Corner serendipitously ends. Secrets are revealed and love floats through the air to a happy ending. I would be lying if I said the ending isn’t completely heartwarming and deserving of a drawn-out “Awww”.
Like I stated above, Shop never set out to be a Christmas movie. From midway to the end, The Shop Around the Corner has Christmas as a mere backdrop to the juicy melodrama unfolding in the foreground. It just so happens that over time, it has transformed itself into a holiday classic despite the lack of a Christmas-y plot. German-born director Ernst Lubitsch created something a lot darker with a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The Shop Around the Corner has everything you imagine a film like this might touch on. It has heartache as you find out details of Mr. Matuschek’s marriage and his attempted suicide, it has glimmers of hope as you watch the anonymous love flourish, and love when the happy ending comes to fruition.
Though The Shop Around the Corner spawned movie remakes and a play, the most notable remake is You’ve Got Mail (1998) directed by Nora Ephron starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Being the massive Tom Hanks fan that I am, I absolutely adore that movie as well. It follows the same premise of The Shop Around the Corner but updates it to the times. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is trying to open a new mega bookstore not far from Kathleen Kelly’s (Meg Ryan) mom and pop bookshop, which was enchantingly named The Shop Around the Corner. The two begin the film hating each other, but what they don’t know is that they’re in love with each other while they’re anonymously messaging one another after meeting in a ‘30 and over’ online chat room. Needless to say, you can probably figure out how this one ends as well.
If you’re in the Christmas spirit or even if you’re not, I would suggest anyone watch The Shop Around the Corner. The witty script is surrounded by delightful performances, making this film a charming romantic comedy for the ages. This is one of my Christmas favorites and I can only hope more people watch it.