Everybody's Got a Hungary Heart

The Shop Around the Corner - 1940
Written by Samson Raphaelson (see link for other credits)
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

The Shop Around The Corner is best known nowadays as the movie that "You've Got Mail" was based on.

HEY WAIT, COME BACK! It's really okay!

While "Mail" has become a modern milestone for exceptional achievements in the saccharine arts, its predecessor delivers the genuine sweetness of vine-ripened fruit. The cast is rich and delicious with endearing performances from a cast that knows when to hurry up, when to slow down, and how to share the feeling of love among the family of employees at Matuschek & Co.

Jimmy Stewart is the head clerk at Matuschek & Co., a variety store in Budapest. He's Jimmy Stewart -- what more do you want? Mr. Matuschek, the store owner, is played by Frank Morgan (who you'll know as the Wizard of Oz) in the really show-stealing performance of the movie. Morgan must be at times arrogant, bumbling, suspicious, delighted, self-conscious, affectionate, furious, brokenhearted, magnanimous and suicidal, and he accomplishes all with such tenderness that you can even feel for him when he's airing the grievances of the capitalist.

There's no big-store-little-store plot thread here. Stewart's unlikely/obvious love interest is Margaret Sullavan, a street-smart gal in search of a job and a better class'a fella. The store owner hires her when she manages to flummox the infuriatingly in-charge Stewart. She's suitably sassy, daffy, snotty and adorable. Naturally she and Stewart get along like peas and catheters.

Other charmers in the cast are the sweetly downtrodden Pitrovich played by Felix Bressart, William Tracy as the delivery boy Pepi who becomes an overnight captain of industry when finally offered the chance to take his first step up the corporate ladder, and even Joseph Schildkraut was engaging as the obsequious proto-douche Vadas.

The character relations within the store define the narrative arc here. While the romance weaves in and out with increasing frequency, it's really the activities in the store, particularly the dynamic between Stewart and Morgan that give the story its momentum and heart.

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