[Updated 12/7/12 to correct that the film is on TCM at midnight ET which is 9 PM PT]
Second Update on 12/8/12: TCM will repeat this movie on Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24th, 2012 at 8 pm Eastern time (5 pm Pacific time).
By Chuck Ross
Hmm. A dilemma. How to get you to watch one of the most delightful movies I’ve ever seen without making it so enticing that you’re bound to be disappointed.
I’d like to say simply that the film, 1940’s “The Shop Around the Corner,” directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, won Best Picture of the Year and a bunch of acting Oscars, and one for Best Screenplay, but the simple truth is this movie wasn’t nominated for a single Academy Award.
Yet another great screenwriter and director, Billy Wilder, called it the best picture he ever saw.
Am I over-hyping yet?
Interestingly, over-hyping something is a problem “Shop” director Lubitsch would probably easily avoid, since he was the proprietor of “The Lubitsch Touch.”
Here’s how that “touch” was once defined by filmmaker and film historian Peter Bogdanovich: “It was as famous a moniker in its day as Hitchcock’s ‘Master of Suspense,’ although perhaps not as superficial. The phrase does connote something light, strangely indefinable, yet nonetheless tangible, and seeing Lubitsch’s films — more than in almost any other director’s work — one can feel this certain spirit; not only in the tactful and impeccably appropriate placement of the camera, the subtle economy of his plotting, the oblique dialogue which had a way of saying everything through indirection, but also — and particularly — in the performance of every single player, no matter how small the role."
This Lubitsch Touch is very much in evidence in “The Shop Around the Corner,” the must-see film that shows tonight midnight ET (9 p.m. PT on 12/7/12) on TCM. [TCM will repeat this movie on Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24th, 2012 at 8 pm Eastern time (5 pm Pacific time).] If you are otherwise engaged, I urge you to put it on your DVR.
But, unlike Lubitsch, I have no desire – nor am I really able – to be subtle or oblique when talking about this movie. It’s a romantic comedy, and it takes place in Budapest close to Christmas. So it’s a terrific movie to see at this time of year especially.
I don’t believe I’ve ever talked to a movie critic (or read about one) who does not like this movie. So here we go. Please don’t let all this praise ruin the movie for you.
Better yet, maybe you should see this movie, make up your own mind, and then come back and see if you agree with the critics’ comments below. (Almost all of these comments about "Shop Around the Corner," and more, can be also found at AltScreen.com.)
Said Pauline Kael: “Close to perfection — one of the most beautifully acted and paced romantic comedies ever made in this country … [The performances of James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan] are full of grace notes; when you watch later James Stewart films you may wonder what became of this other, deft, sensitive, pre-drawling Stewart. As for Sullavan, this is a peerless performance: she makes the shopgirl’s pretenses believable, lyrical, and funny.”
Critic David Kehr once wrote in the Chicago Reader: "There are no art deco nightclubs, shimmering silk gowns, or slamming bedroom doors to be seen, but this 1940 film is one of Ernst Lubitsch’s finest and most enduring works, a romantic comedy of dazzling range that takes place almost entirely within the four walls of a leather-goods store in prewar Budapest. Interwoven with subplots centered on the other members of the shop’s little family, the romance proceeds through Lubitsch’s brilliant deployment of point of view, allowing the audience to enter the perceptions of each individual character at exactly the right moment to develop maximum sympathy and suspense."
Director Whit Stillman (“Metropolitan,” “Damsels in Distress”), calling “The Shop Around the Corner” his “Favorite Christmas movie,” once told The New York Times, “The film’s timeless quality suggests the lasting attractions of Christmas, changing with the period of one’s life but not so much between the generations. Perhaps its greatest charm is as a loving portrayal of a microcosm of humanity, the shop employees each playing their necessary parts as if divinely ordained and not just Lubitsch-arranged — the God of heaven manifest on Earth, or at least on film."
Peter Bogdonavich — whom I quoted above about "The Lubitsch Touch" — has written specifically about this movie that: “[It] indeed [has] one of the richest looks at the oddly contradictory and unpredictably diverse traits of human nature. The picture never for a second stretches credulity; you soon realize Lubitsch’s unspoken point that regular people are the same all over the world, no matter how individually quirky they may be. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ is a picture that makes you feel good about people and life, even while it touches you with the transience of happiness, the pain of regret, the essentially irreconcilable differences between youth and age. Like all great art, it enriches the soul, makes you better through its special goal. It is one of Lubitsch’s greatest gifts to us."
And, finally, there was this short, unsigned paragraph from The New Yorker on 4-1-1999:
"Lubitsch and writer Samson Raphaelson agreed that their enchanting 1940 collaboration was their truest work. If any movie deserves the adjective ‘timeless,’ it’s this one. It’s a distinctively bittersweet comedy about all the romance and intrigue that arise among the employees of a Budapest leather-goods and gift shop. The movie kids — and honors — men and women who hope to build a life around a steady job and family and to make their co-workers a family too. If the 1932 Lubitsch-Raphaelson farce ‘Trouble in Paradise’ is an ideal movie about seduction, this is the consummate movie about courtship."
“The Shop Around the Corner” is based on the play “Parfumerie” by Miklos Laszlo. The play was also the source material for the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The only thing the two films really have in common is their plot. As a comparison of the two movies proves, remaking a film is far from the same thing as making a film better.