Today’s movie is The Shop Around the Corner (1940). This movie has a very respectable 8.1 on iMDB.com. Rottentomatoes.com has it at 100 percent on the Tomatometer and 91 percent audience approval. So, not too shabby. Tomatoes continues with the quote “Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.”
The tale may seem a little familiar to you and I will talk about it in the conclusions.
James Stewart played Alfred Kralik. Jimmy was first covered in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962).
Sara Haden had a small role as clerk Flora. Haden was first covered in Laura (1944).
Margaret Sullavan played the role of young sales clerk Klara Novak. Sullavan was born in Virginia in 1909. Her family was very wealthy and she attended a private school. While attending Harvard, she acted in the University Players. The talented Sullavan made her Broadway debut in 1926. She was married to Henry Fonda from 1931 to 1933. Her film debut was in Only Yesterday (1933). She was married to William Wyler from 1934 to 1936. Her best known of her 17 films include The Good Fairy (1935), Three Comrades (1938), The Shopworn Angel (1938), and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Sullavan died on January 1, 1960, from a drug overdose that was ruled an accident. Her youngest daughter committed suicide less than one year later. One of her sons also took his life in 2008 at the age of 66.
Frank Morgan played the shop owner Hugo Matuschek. Morgan was born in 1890 in New York City. He was born into a wealthy family that traded in “Angostura Aromatic Bitters.” Some of his early jobs included selling toothbrushes, soliciting advertisements, and bronco busting. Following his older brother, Morgan had his Broadway debut in 1914. He began making films in 1916 and continued until 1950. The best known of his 100 films include The Affairs of Cellini (1934), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Naughty Marietta (1935), The Good Fairy (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Trouble for Two (1936), The Wizard of Oz (1939), where he played Professor Marvel / The Wizard of Oz / The Gatekeeper / The Carriage Driver / The Guard, The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Tortilla Flat (1942), where he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and The Human Comedy (1943). Morgan died in 1949 at the age of 59.
Joseph Schildkraut played the role of Ferencz Vadas. Joseph was born in 1896 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in what is now Austria. His father was a very famous actor in Europe and was well known in Yiddish theater. The family moved to Germany when Joseph was 4 and by 6, he appeared regularly on stage with his father.
Joseph graduated from the Berlin’s Royal Academy of Music in 1911. Following his graduation, the family moved to America and settled in New York in 1912. While his father became a big star in American Yiddish theater, Joseph attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Joseph’s father was lured back to Europe by a larger paycheck and the family returned to Germany. Joseph became quite successful in theater working at the German People’s Theater or Deutsches Volkstheatre from 1913-1920. Due to the economic ravages of war, work was hard to find following World War I.
The family moved back to America in 1920. Having experience in Germany and Austrian films dating back to 1915, Joseph was immediately given an important role in an American film. He was cast in the D.W. Griffith directed Orphans of the Storm (1921) with the two Gish sisters. This film cemented his status as a sex symbol of the level of Navarro and Valentino. Other films during this period include The Song of Love (1923), The Road to Yesterday (1925), Shipwrecked (1926), Meet the Prince (1926), Young April (1926), The Heart Thief (1927), The King of Kings (1927), The Forbidden Woman (1927), and Show Boat (1929).
He continued working in the 1930s with Viva Villa! (1934), Cleopatra (1934), The Crusades (1935), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), where he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Lancer Spy (1937), Marie Antoinette (1938), Suez (1938), The Rains Came (1939), The Three Musketeers (1939), The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). World War II stalled his film work, but he continued on stage.
His career downfall occurred when he signed on to Republic Pictures. For the most part, he was underutilized and given poor roles. The exceptions were when he played the father in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and a small role in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Joseph died in 1964 before his last film was released.
Felix Bressart was cast as Pirovitch. Felix was born in 1892 in East Prussia in what is now Russia. iMDB.com described his as a “lanky frame, big nose, toothbrush mustache and horn-rimmed glasses he looked like someone had decided to cross Groucho Marx with Albert Einstein.”
He trained under Maria Moissi and Max Reinhardt in Germany and became a professional actor following World War I. He made his first film in 1928. By 1933, he was a well-established star. Then those damn Nazis took over. Feliz left Germany and settled in the US in 1938. There was a large population of Germany refugees in Hollywood at the time and he quickly received work. His first major American film was Ninotchka (1939). This was followed by Comrade X (1940), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Edison, the Man (1940), the Jack Benny comedy To Be or Not to Be (1942), which was remade by Mel Brooks in 1983. Felix’s last film was My Friend Irma (1949). He died during the production at the age of 57. He was replaced in the film by Hans Conried.
William Tracy played the role of Pepi Katona. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1917. He began acting as a youth, before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. At 19, in 1937, Tracy landed a role Broadway in “Brother Rat.” The next year, he was cast in the same role for the film version, Brother Rat (1938). His next role was playing the younger version of Pat O’Brien’s character in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).
Producer Hal Roach cast Tracy in a series of very popular, low-budget comedies, based around the antics of Sgt. “Dodo” Doubleday. These movies included About Face (1942), Hay Foot (1942), Fall In (1942) and Yanks Ahoy (1943). He made other films such as Terry and the Pirates (1940), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Tobacco Road (1941), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) and George Washington Slept Here (1942).
In 1942, Tracy joined the US Army Air Corp and served in World War II. Film roles slowed following the war and they even tried to revive Sgt. “Dodo” Doubleday, for a war-weary audience with As You Were (1951) and Mr. Walkie Talkie (1952).
Tracy tried a “Terry and the Pirates” television series in 1952, but it fell flat. The poor man died relatively unknown in 1967 at the age of 49.
Charles Halton played the Detective. Halton was born in Washington D.C. in 1876. He studied at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. His career ran from 1917 to 1958 and had almost 200 credits. His best known films include Dead End (1937), Dr. Cyclops (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), One Foot in Heaven (1941), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), To Be or Not to Be (1942), Wilson (1944), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), 3 Godfathers (1948), the one with John Wayne, Friendly Persuasion (1956), and his final film, High School Confidential! (1958). Halton died in 1959.
Charles Smith played the delivery boy Rudy. Smith was born in 1920 in Michigan. A funny faced actor he played character parts in dozens of movies that include The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Henry and Dizzy (1942), Henry Aldrich, Editor (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Henry Aldrich Swings It (1943), and The Gnome-Mobile (1967). Smith died in 1988.
The employees of Matuschek’s leather goods in Budapest gather outside of the unopened store to ensure that there were there ahead of the owner, Hugh Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Some of the employees, such as longer employee Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) are good friends. Other, however, are viewed with suspension and content, such as Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut). My poor German would translate that last name into something like cabbage kid. However, it is a Yiddish variation of a German word and means tortoise. He brags about his conquests and flashes his money. Flora (Sara Haden) and Ilona (Inez Courtney) are largely a background character. Pepi Katona (William Tracy) is a delivery boy that has a plan to make it to the top. Pepi has been forced by Mrs. Matuschek to run errands.
Alfred has had dinner the night before with his boss and the boss’ wife. Matuschek shows up by taxi and they all greet him. Both he and Alfred have upset stomachs from the previous night’s dinner. They all go to work. Alfred confides in Pirovitch that he has been writing with a woman he found through the personal ads in the newspaper. Alfred and the woman have never met and have no idea who each is.
Matuschek wants to buy a big lot of cigarette boxes. He asks Alfred how he feels about the box that plays “Ochi Chërnye.” Alfred does not like it but others in the shop say they like it because they are afraid, to tell the truth, or just want to suck up to the boss.
A young lady, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), comes into the shop and wants to see Mr. Matuschek. Alfred says he can handle her issue without bothering Mr. Matuschek. Klara asks for a job and Alfred says they are not hiring. She begs for a job and Alfred saying he knows Matuschek thoughts and reactions and is overheard by the boss. He buts in and takes over the conversation. When she asks for a job, he says no way and hurries away. Matuschek calls for Alfred as he takes Klara’s information. Matuschek chews out Alfred for letting him get into that awkward situation.
While Alfred is being chewed out, they hear the cigarette box playing and Vadas comes in saying he thinks he has a customer for the item. When the three go into the shop, Klara is holding the box. Matuschek asks Klara about the box and she says she likes it. Klara then sells the box as a candy box to a lady and says the song is to remind people not to eat too many pieces of candy. Matuschek hires her on the spot over Alfred’s objections. Closer to Christmas, the boxes are shown in the window sell below cost.
Alfred tells Pirovitch that he has a date for the evening. The pair also talks about how hard the boss has been to get along with lately. Alfred asks marriage advice from the devoted family man Pirovitch. Alfred wants to ask for a raise and he will propose if the first meeting with the mystery woman goes well. They have been postponing their meeting which is a sign of catfishing. Klara arrives and she and Alfred really don’t like each other. Vadas arrives by taxi and flashes more money. Matuschek arrives and tells the staff that they have to work late redoing the windows when the shop closes. Klara tells Ilona that she has an important date and needs to get off of work.
Mr. Matuschek gets a call from his wife. He was out late the night before and now wants more money. After the call, Mr. Matuschek is in a very foul mood. Alfred comes in to ask for the night off. Matuschek dismisses him without finding out what he wants. Alfred is very unhappy. Pirovitch talks him off the ledge.
In the stock room, Klara starts cozying up to Alfred. Her sole reason for being nice to Alfred is to secure the night off. Finally, she asks for the night off and Alfred sees the plot. It all ends badly. But it gets worse when she goes directly to Matuschek and asks for the night off. Matuschek asks Alfred his opinion and he asks for the night off too. Matuschek lets him have the night off but he is super mad. Alfred can’t understand why the boss is mad at him. To pile on Mrs. Matuschek calls for more money. Because Pepi is out of the shop, the money is sent via Vadas.
At closing time Alfred and Klara are working in the window. Matuschek is pacing around and finally calls Alfred into his office. Matuschek fires him but gives him full pay and a good letter or recommendation. The rest of the staff thinks he getting promoted and they can’t understand why this has happened. Alfred throws away the flower he was to wear to his date. They are at the beginning of the Great Depression and jobs are hard to find.
Matuschek gets a call that someone is coming to meet him at the shop and he sends the entire crew home. Klara races to her locker and grabs the book and flower she is supposed to bring to the date for identification. Pirovitch calls Alfred and leaves a message that he is coming over. He lobbies the boss for Alfred’s job and almost loses his own job. Vadas sucks up to the boss.
A private detective (Charles Halton) comes to the shop. He reports that as Matuschek suspected, his wife is having an affair with one of his employees. However, it was not Alfred as he suspected, it was Vadas. Matuschek goes into his office to kill himself. Pepi comes back in time to stop the suicide attempt.
Pirovitch and Alfred go to the Café Nizza, where he is to meet the mystery woman. Pirovitch is to deliver a message breaking the date. Pirovitch looks in the window and says she looks like Klara from the shop. Finally, he says the mystery woman is Klara. Alfred looks in with surprise.
Alfred goes in the café and starts talking to Klara. She tries to brush him off so he doesn’t interfere with her date. Alfred is having trouble reconciling the woman from work and the woman from the letters. Alfred sits at the next table with his back towards Klara. They continue to talk and spat. He calls her an old maid and she calls him a little insignificant clerk. This pretty much ends the encounter.
Pepi takes Matuschek to a hospital and he is suffering from a nervous breakdown. Alfred comes to the hospital and Matuschek is contrite. He offers Alfred the job of shop manager. He tells Alfred to fire Vadas quietly. Later Pepi worms his way into a job as a clerk.
Everyone is happy to have Alfred back. Vadas starts sucking up. Pepi, wearing a new suit and bowler hat, gets busy hiring a new delivery boy. Pepi spills the story. When Mrs. Matuschek calls Pepi chews her out and asks if she wants to speak to Vadas.
Alfred calls Vadas into the office and begins chewing him out. Alfred gets the call that Klara is sick and will not be at work. Finally, Alfred fires Vadas and the conversation carries out into the shop floor. Alfred shoves him into a pile of cigarette boxes. The others help throw him out.
Klara checks her post office box and it is empty. She goes into Matuschek’s office and surprised to find Alfred as the manager. When she realizes it is true, she faints. That night Alfred goes to see Klara who is sick in bed. Klara receives a letter from her mystery man. Of course, it was written by Alfred. She reads the letter out loud and it explains that the mystery man could not make their date because he saw her with another man.
Two weeks pass, and the shop has obtained record sales under Alfred’s leadership. Pepi is lording over the new delivery boy, Rudy (Charles Smith). Matuschek comes to the shop and passes out bonus checks to all the employees. Klara tells Pirovitch that she expects to be engaged after her first date with her mystery man.
Matuschek tries to get someone to go to dinner with him but the employees all have plans except Rudy. Matuschek invites the young man to dinner. That leaves Alfred and Klara alone in the shop. They talk about their planned dates and Klara confesses that she had a crush on Alfred for a time.
Alfred tells Klara that he has met her mystery man and he is not bad in spite of being fat, bald, and unemployed. Alfred put a carnation in his lapel, the dating signal, he tells her the PO Box number, and Klara realizes he is the mystery man. They kiss.
Well, I guess that story sounds pretty familiar. Based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie,” this movie has been remade as a musical called In the Good Old Summertime (1949), with Judy Garland and Van Johnson.
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan played the Alfred and Klara roles in a remake called You’ve Got Mail (1998). This time the relationship was based on one of the first widely used email programs, AOL. The dislike was based on Hanks’ ownership of a big box bookstore, something that no longer exists, and her ownership of a small independent bookstore. As a tribute to today’s movie, Ryan’s character’s bookstore was called “The Shop Around the Corner.”
World-Famous Short Summary – Watch out for catfishing.
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Beware the moors