“There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.”
Was James Stewart the most charming dude to ever act in the movies? His stammering, everyman works in almost every situation. From an undercover tabloid journalist in The Philadelphia Story, to a paranoid forced shut in Rear Window, to heroic politician with a non-traditional heroic past in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to dozens of other roles in dozens of other movies. There’s a reason why when they remade The Shop Around the Corner, they cast the present king of charming everymen, Tom Hanks. For some reason. I’ve seen the Hanks remake (You’ve Got Mail) and not the original. Which just doesn’t seem right. So, I fixed that today.
Alfred Kralik (Stewart) works in a small department store for the cantankerous Mr Matsuschek (Frank Morgan). One day, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullivan) walks into the store looking for work. When she manages to sell a cigar box Alfred previously descirbes us unsellable, Mr Matsuschek hires her on the spot. Almost as immediately, Alfred and Klara are clashing and on each other’s nerves.
Earlier, Alfred told his colleague Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) about a pen pal relationship he’s been conducting with a women he found through a newspaper personals ad. Some months later, things are going well enough for them to finally meet in person. Things go from well enough to complicated when he arrives at the meeting point to discover that Klara is the pen pal. Things are only more complicated when Mr Matsuschek gets it into his head that Alfred is having an affair with his wife.
The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy that meets every definition of a romantic comedy. The central couple have a meet-cute. The central couple start off unable to stand each other. The central couple are kept apart by obstacles that could be removed and problems that could be solved in a matter of minutes if just one of them would cut the shit and tell the truth about their feelings for once. It does all of that, and all of that is OK.
It turns out, when you put a charming everyman like Jimmy Stewart at the centre of a by the numbers romantic comedy like this, then give him a leading lady with just as much charm, the resulting chemistry is gonna be more than enough to make up for any predictable clichés, or otherwise infuriating misunderstandings that fuel a movie like The Shop Around the Corner.