Saturday, September 1, 2012

Short Take: The Shop Around the Corner

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Director Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is considered by many to be one of the finest romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood. However, one may feel this reputation is undeserved. The story may strike one as thin, the central romantic relationship unconvincing, and the film as a whole tiresome. James Stewart stars as the senior salesperson at a small department store, and Margaret Sullavan plays the store's newest hire. They don't realize it, but they've been corresponding thanks to a lonely-hearts ad in the local newspaper. They can't stand each other face to face, but both are enamored with the person they imagine on the other side of the letters. The script, based on the play Parfumerie by Miklós László and credited to Samson Raphaelson, doesn't evoke the push-pull dynamic central to this kind of romantic comedy. One never senses the pair's conflicts reflect an attraction they're trying to deny. And the script doesn't provide enough development to the central situation in any case; it gets sidetracked into an irrelevant subplot regarding an affair the store owner's wife is having with an employee. Lubitsch's staging and camerawork are unerringly graceful, and the cast brings the material all the conviction they can muster. Stewart in particular is an assured and appealing presence. But nothing could turn the sow's ear of a script into a silk purse of a film. One eventually watches the couple wishing they'd get together just so the film could end. But as indicated above, this is a contrary view of the picture, and mileage may vary. The film's setting is ostensibly Budapest, but nearly everything about it feels American.

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