Monday, December 20, 2010
"The Shop Around the Corner" - 1940
We’re going shopping this week with a look at the commercial aspect (though incidental) of Christmas as seen through this film, and on Thursday, with “Holiday Affair” (1949).
There are so many charming aspects to “The Shop Around the Corner”, most especially that the minor character actors play major roles, including many beautiful solo moments that compliment the major stars here: Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart.
“Portrait of Jennie” (1949) where he played the befuddled movie projector operator.
You’ll remember Sara Haden as Aunt Milly from a long parade of Andy Hardy movies. She is the old maid secretary here instead of the old maid aunt. Charles Halton is the detective, also seen in dozens of movies in minor roles, probably you’ll recall him as the bank examiner in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946).
The new boy is played by a young Charles Smith, who could tear our hearts out with his gentle innocence and hopefulness.
All these players make the movie seem like an ensemble piece, where the last shall be first. Still, there is a major plot line for the two stars apart from the goings on in the store.
“Love Letters” how much can be won, and lost, in precious correspondence and the allure of a well-turned phrase.
The story has been remade in several incarnations, including the post here on “In the Good Old Summertime” (1944). But this version has a charm all its own, and I think a good part of it is Lubitsch’s setting the story in Budapest during the Depression. I love the signs all written in Magyar, including our many peeks at the currency tabs on the cash register.
I love Felix Bressart’s low bows when shaking hands. The Americans and the Europeans in the cast seem to blend well together, without parody.
Made in 1940, while World War II stripped away the independence and the lives of many, many Europeans, we may well guess that this is Mr. Lubitsch’s tribute, and perhaps farewell, to a more peaceful era in Europe. Hitler may have been well forming his plans in the 1930s, but there is still in this movie something decidedly nostalgic, something Habsburgian about this setting. It might be the cigarette boxes that play “Ochi Tchornya” (Dark Eyes), or the courtly shrug of the shoulders attitude that one must make the best of things in this troubled world.
I like James Stewart’s line to Felix Bressart when they discuss the excitement of getting a bonus, the anticipation of opening the pay envelope and wondering how much. “As long as the envelope’s closed, you’re a millionaire.”
If you’ve not seen “The Shop Around the Corner”, TCM is showing it tonight.
Come back Thursday for Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in a much larger department store setting in “Holiday Affair”.