Review: The Shop Around the Corner (1940 movie)

Frank Morgan, the former ruler of Oz, now owns a luggage and leather goods shop in Budapest. His best employee is Jimmy Stewart, who has an annoying tendency to disagree with him and — worse — usually turns out to be right.

There’s also an older family man on the staff who carefully avoids rocking any boats. When he hears the boss ask for an honest opinion he finds a place to hide. At one point he tells Stewart that the boss “picks on me too. The other day he called me an idiot. What could I do? I said, ‘Yes, Mr Matuschek, I’m an idiot.’ I’m no fool!”

There’s also a dapper womanizer in spats, a wise-ass young errand boy, and a couple of other salespeople. Morgan complains his employees don’t appreciate the fact that he employs a staff of six when bigger stores make do with four.

So when Margaret Sullavan shows up desperate for a job, Stewart sympathetically tells her there’s no hope. But when she take it on herself to sell one of the musical cigarette boxes Stewart told him were a bad idea, Morgan is delighted enough to hire her anyway.

From that point Sullavan and Stewart manage to get on each other’s nerves, so if you’ve ever seen a movie you know there’s going to be a romance.

In fact, they already have one in progress; they just don’t know it. Some weeks before Stewart responded to a personals ad in a local newspaper and ever since he’s been enjoying a delightful correspondence with a woman finds immensely appealing, though he doesn’t even know her name, just her post office box number. The woman is Sullavan, of course, and her feelings are running in the same direction. Both are counting the days until they can finally meet in person.

It’s a blatantly contrived situation, of course, but the main characters are so likable and the dialog so witty that the movie is a lot of fun. It’s based on a popular Hungarian stage play, Illatszertár (The Perfume Shop) by Miklós László, as reflected in the Budapest setting. It was adapted several more times as well to different eras and locales, including the films In the Good Old Summertime (1949) with Van Johnson and Judy Garland and You’ve Got Mail (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It eventually made it back to the stage as well in the form of the Broadway musical She Loves Me.


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