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11 July 2005

The Shop Around the Corner

James Stewart & Margaret Sullivan
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait)

From Hollywood Video: "A pair of pen pals fall in love, unaware that they work in the same store and do not like each other as co-workers."

Based on a play by Hungarian Miklós László, The Shop Around the Corner went on to inspire the tepid Hanks/Ryan remake You've Got Mail, along with another version from 1949 called In the Good Old Summertime. But no remake can top the strange charm of the original.

Despite the fact that Jimmy Stewart was born in Pennsylvania and Margaret Sullivan was born in Virginia, the director remained true to the play's original setting, in Budapest. They work for Matuschek & Co. Their character names are Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak. And their accents don't change a wit.

Once you get past this strange anomaly, the movie is very funny, very romantic, and vastly entertaining. In particular, the end "reveal" scene where Stewart teases his partner about the identity of her mystery man, slowly revealing more and more of his affection, is both tender and hilarious. Playing Alfred, Stewart - discounted as being too lanky, too clean-cut, too average joe to be a sex symbol - is remarkably intense as he reveals his love for Sullivan's Klara. The way he whispers her name, the unwavering way he watches her when she is not looking - sexy and impressive.

Speaking of sexy, it was rumored that Stewart was having three affairs during the filming of this picture, with Sullivan, Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert. However, after attaining the rank of Colonel during WWII - therefore making him the second-highest ranking actor to serve in the armed forces, after Ronald Reagan's position as Commander-in-Chief - he married and was faithful to his wife Gloria until her death 45 years later. However, life did not turn out so well for Sullivan, who suffered through four marriages, the suicide of one child and the mental hospitalization of her two other children, all of which contributed to her own suicidal overdose in 1960.

Now forget reality and go back to thinking about how the film was wonderful and very, very happy.

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