Looking in the Window at The Shop Around the Corner
Cast and Stats
The Shop Around the Corner
1 hr 39 Mins Comedy, Drama, Romance 1940 8.1 Stars
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Margaret Sullivan - Klara Novak
James Stewart - Alfred Kralik
Frank Morgan - Hugo Matuschek
Joseph Schildkraut - Ference Vadas
Felix Bressart - Pirovitch
William Tracy - Pepi Katona
Charles Smith - Rudy
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie.
In the Shop
The Shop Around the Corner is a comedy of human nature showing quite accurately the strangeness so often found in the dance of romance. The opening scene shows a cast of employees at a small leather goods shop in Budapest Hungary standing outside waiting for the owner, Mr. Matuschek (played by Frank Morgan) to arrive and open up to start a new day. It is a cold and snowy day in December. Among the handful of employees assembled there is Mr. Kralik (played by James Stewart). He is the top employee apparently being groomed to one day take over the store. He sends the errand boy, Pepi, to get some bicarbonate of soda for his stomach. Soon Mr. Matuschek arrives in a chauffeured car. He goes through what seems to be a daily ritual of inspecting the store front and commenting on what he sees. He also sends Pepi to get some bicarbonate of soda for his stomach. He and Mr. Kralik had dined together the previous night and the food had been harsh on their stomachs. Mr. Matuschek’s crew is the picture of a good work ethic. They are all there early and they are extremely deferential to Mr. Matuschek. They both love and fear him, the benevolent dictator of Matuschek and company. Finally he unlocks the front door and everyone goes in eager to start work for the day. Everyone is so formal in their interactions addressing each other as Mister or Miss so and so.
As only a few customers come into the shop Mr. Matuschek asks Mr. Kralik what he thinks of a combination cigar box and music box that plays “Oti Chornya”. Mr. Matuschek likes it but is unsure of whether it will sell or not. Mr. Kralik says he doesn’t’ like it. We see here that Mr. Kralik is not a yes-man. Comically every time Mr. Matuschek asks for an opinion Mr. Pirovitch is seen leaving the room. Soon a customer walks in, Klara Novak (played by Margaret Sullivan). Mr. Kralik goes over to her to try to sell her an item, but what she’s looking for is not to be found on the shelf; she’s looking for a job. Both Mr. Kralik and Mr. Matuschek say that it’s impossible; there are not enough customers there to warrant additional personnel. Nevertheless Mr. Matuschek asks her opinion about the “Oti Chornya” box. She likes it and sells it to a customer right there on the spot. Mr. Matuschek is so impressed with her sales ability he hires her immediately.
In the next scene Mr. Kralik confides in Mr. Pirovitch that he is in a correspondence with a woman whom he has met through a personal ad in the newspaper. He’s in love, but has never met the woman nor seen her picture. In the meantime Klara confides a similar thing to one of the other sales ladies in the store.
As the days progress Klara, Miss Novak as she is often called, and Mr. Kralik bicker constantly. Organizationally she reports to him and that makes things worse. One day they each plan to meet their respective correspondents, but Mr. Matuschek requires them both to work late that evenin;.he is in a bad mood. Klara is able to leave before it’s too late, but just before she leaves Mr. Kralik is, mysteriously, fired! Mr. Matuschek tries to be kind in his act of firing Mr. Kralik as much as one can be in that circumstance. He writes a very nice letter of recommendation to assist Mr. Kralik in finding work elsewhere. Mr. Kralik is devastated – it was a blindside move; he was caught off guard. For his part Mr. Matuschek is equally sad.
The devastated Mr. Kralik walks to the café where he was supposed to meet his correspondent lover but he just doesn’t have the heart to go in and meet her. He feels worthless being a man who is suddenly without income. His good buddy, Mr. Pirovitch comes along to console him. He looks inside the café window at Kralik’s request to describe the woman he was to meet. It is he that informs Kralik that his blind date is none other than Klara, Miss Novak! From blind side to blind date so far this has not been Kralik’s day. Nevertheless he goes into the café without revealing that he is her correspondent and talks to Klara who anxiously shoos him away as she is expecting her date to arrive at any moment. He stays, however, to tease her and ends up annoying her. She in turn lambasts him and strikes an awful blow to his self-esteem which at this point is very low.
Meanwhile back at the shop we learn the reason for Kralik’s sudden dismissal. Mr. Matuschek had hired a private investigator to follow his wife because he has had suspicions that she has been having an affair with Mr. Kralik. The investigator has come to confirm the suspicion that his wife has been having an affair, but it hasn’t been with Mr. Kralik, rather it has been with a different employee, a rather annoying fellow named Mr. Vadas! Mr. Matuschek is devastated and not just about the affair. He has just fired the wrong man. In fact Mr. Kralik had been like a son to him and, as mentioned earlier, was being groomed to one day take over the business. Mr. Matuschek slowly walks into his office and closes the door. Just then Pepi the delivery boy returns to the empty shop and looks around for Mr. Matuschek. He goes into the office and we hear him yell for Mr. Matuschek to stop! We then hear a gunshot. He has presumably saved Mr. Matuschek from suicide.
Pepi has summoned Mr. Kralik to the hospital and in Mr. Matuschek’s hospital room he apologizes to Mr. Kralik and offers him his old job back with a promotion to store manager. Pepi also gets promoted to sales clerk.
The next day back on the job Mr. Kralik is now the boss, a fact which causes Klara to faint. As boss he fires Mr. Vadas in a publicly humiliating way.
Klara recovers herself but is in desperate straits. She was stood up by her blind date and she has insulted the man who is now her boss – when he was down no less. She asks for sick leave because as she says she’s “psychologically confused”. As a boss Mr. Kralik goes to visit Klara who is home moping in bed. He has arranged for another letter to arrive while he is there from her mystery love correspondent. As a correspondent he had written the letter saying he didn’t dare come into the café when he saw Mr. Kralik there. This letter alleviates her psychological confusion. She is relieved and determines to go back to work the next day. She arrives cheerful and full of life. While back at the job and trying to get along with Mr. Kralik she divulges that she wants to buy an “Oti Chornya” box for her pen pal boyfriend. Mr. Kralik hates those boxes so he tries to talk her into buying a wallet instead, but she remains adamant. So Mr. Kralik engages the help of Mr. Pirovitch who convinces Klara that he wants to buy the last “Oti Chornya” box for his wife’s uncle who he can’t stand. He then convinces her that if he were receiving a gift the best thing he would want more than anything else would be a wallet. A few moments later he is seen saying to Mr. Kralik, “You’ll get your wallet.”
Mr. Kralik convinces the rest of the staff to go all out and make this Christmas Eve the best one ever so as to bring cheer to Mr. Matuschek who will be back visiting. Pepi hires his own replacement as an errand boy. The new guy is named Rudy. When Mr. Matuschek comes by to visit the store he is absolutely delighted to see the booming business they are doing. As the store closes up he asks the various employees what their plans are for the evening. We the audience can tell that he’s feeling lonely on this Christmas Eve newly estranged from his wife, but each of his employees have other plans already except the new guy, Rudy, who is far from home and has nowhere to go. It’s a beautiful scene to see Mr. Matuschek, the owner invite the new errand boy, Rudy to a sumptuous dinner to celebrate Christmas Eve. It is a scene showing the quintessential spirit of Christmas and to see the expressions of joy on both their faces as they set out for Christmas dinner on Mr. Matuschek’s dime. (Or since it takes place in Hungary, on Mr. Matuschek’s ‘filler’.)
Finally they close up shop after a very successful day. In the company locker room Mr. Kralik and Klara are discussing their Christmas plans. Mr. Kralik tells Klara that he met her correspondent who had come into the shop the day before. He reports very disconcerting things about the man who he says is named ‘Mathias Popkin’. He describes Popkin as being pudgy and recently unemployed. Klara is discouraged and tells Kralik that at first she had an attraction to him. Finally he reveals who he is, that he is the correspondent. They embrace – happy ending.
At the Café
The turning point in this movie is when Mr. Kralik is fired, learns that Klara is his pen pal, Mr. Matucshek tries to commit suicide and Kralik is made manager – quite day for him. This is in fact a realization of the famous malapropism, “he plummeted to the top.” From this point onward Mr. Kralik is in control of both his job and his relationship. In fact from this point forward we see no more bickering with Klara on his part. Not a mean thing is said at all except the teasing he gives her before revealing who he is and he does this merely to enhance his own image ahead of this reveal. To recap: Mr. Kralik had noted Klara’s sensitivities, so he created a fictitious character named Mathias Popkin. He told Klara that this man had come to the shop to meet her when she wasn’t there. Mr. Kralik described him as overweight, balding and recently unemployed. In her disappointment she divulges that she had originally been attracted to him, Mr. Kralik. This then becomes the backdrop of Mr. Kralik’s reveal.
This story like all others is defined by more than its plot. It is defined by the personalities of its characters. There are two annoying characters in this movie: Pepi and Mr. Vadas. Pepi is what I would term pleasantly annoying. He is brash, pompous and very self-promoting. But his annoyances are humorous and we find ourselves being amused by his impish ways. Mr. Vadas by contrast is annoyingly annoying. He is also brash, pompous and self-promoting, but whereas Pepi’s antics are humorous his are humorless and of course he is the villain of the story. One of the great effects of the actor who plays Mr. Vadas, Joseph Schildkraut, to convey the annoying nature of Mr. Vadas is the nervous fast talking way he speaks. That combined with his laid on thick dapper appearance and his yes-man perspective just makes you want to punch this brownnoser in the face. It is a very well-acted part!
Mr. Matuschek is a loveable grandfatherly type who even from his hospital bed implores Kralik to treat Vadas gently as he dismisses him. This shows the heart of Matuschek. Mr. Kralik tries not to make a scene when he dismisses Vadas, but he fails at subtlety and Vadas is forcibly tossed out.
Klara’s personality is powerful and quite often unpleasant. She does have a sales sort of personality as was demonstrated in her opening scene which is good for her vocation, but she is easily enraptured by what she has read in her correspondence. Mr. Kralik is able to use this optimistic outlook to describe a fictional man, Mathias Popkin, completely contrary to the construct she had formed in her mind. Yet she was willing to speak of becoming engaged to a man she had never met! She could also be very mean and vindictive. In the café she said terrible things to Mr. Kralik even though he had just lost his job. She kicked him when he was down.
Alfred Kralik also had grandiose thoughts of romance early on, just from the depths of the correspondence. It is not possible to tell just how far those feelings would go on his part because early on he learned who his pen pal was. But it is important to note that he was well along that same road, that human romantic optimism which can grow from simple correspondence. This optimism frequently shrinks to nothing upon meeting. The first impression that Kralik and Novak had through their letters was nevertheless very good and carried them through to the time when they revealed their identities. This does not always turn out well, but in their case it did!
This movie is set in Budapest Hungary, in the late 1930s. You can see the Hungarian nuances here and there throughout the movie. Look at the monetary denominations on the cash register. It’s not dollars and cents, it’s pengű and filler. Look at the names of the characters - for the most part (there are some Slavic names in the cast too). Historically speaking at the time depicted in this movie there was a storm brewing there. Soon that whole city would enter a very dark time with World War II set to engulf the whole area. The story takes place at the end of a happy time in Hungary ahead of what will be years of unhappiness.
This movie was remade in 1949 as a musical called “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The story was also done in more recent movies such as “You’ve Got Mail” in 1998 and others.