Corner Shop Film Review #2: The Shop Around the Corner

In which we look at the corner shop in the movies….
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to watching the odd DVD in the back room. Not any old DVD, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The film must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of whiling a quiet Sunday afternoon….
Synopsis: The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a classic romantic comedy, backed by a cracking script and full of old-fashioned charm. It is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, which also spawned the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. Of which more at another time. Maybe.
It is not a complicated plot. And the setting is delightfully simple: most of the action takes place at Matuschek’s, a Budapest gift shop which never entirely manages to look like anything more than the MGM studios. Senior shop assistant Alfred Kralik (played by a very young James Stewart: is Nicholas Cage a relative of his, by the way, as they are awfully similar…) cannot seem to get on with flighty young upstart Klara Novak (aka 40s blonde bombshell Margaret Sullavan), and they bicker constantly behind the counter. Coincidentally they are both conducting relationships by correspondence, and are both anxious to meet their mysterious pen pals…neither of them realising that they are in fact romancing each other. Alfred is fired from his job on a misunderstanding, and thus when he goes finally to meet his unknown belle and realises it is Klara, he is too ashamed to identify himself. Suffice it to say that he is eventually exonerated and appointed as manager…and you can probably guess the rest.
The comedy element comes not from the (almost Shakespearean: discuss) storyline, or from the action (which betrays its theatrical beginnings) but from the throw-away one-liners and gentle satire contained in the script itself. The focus on the saleability of a rather vulgar musical cigarette box is genius.
Real shop cred: Well in spite of the Hollywood fakery of it all, and the fact that it is set in a snowy and seemingly distant past, we’re going to give it 7/10 on the cred-ometer. It offers a fine protrayal of the subtle bitching and also camaraderie enjoyed by shop staff then and now, together with a wry look at the frailty of store hierarchy. But we like it best of all for the way it suggests that shopkeeping is a profession of which one should be proud, and that those working at Matuschek’s all count themselves lucky to have a job at all. Can we not get back to this ethos? Where did it all go wrong, eh?
Buy, rent, cadge or avoid? Well, we bought it with a view to giving it to our mother (who would like you to know that she was too young to have seen it the first time round): £5.98 seemed small price to pay to transport not one but two ladies to that special misty place occupied by 1940s matinee material. It has to be said that when Mrs. Shopkeeper was about 8 years old her parents installed a coulour telly at home. A week later they sent it back, as the junior Mrs. S. did not seem to have noticed the difference. So the fact that this film is in BLACK and WHITE did not bother her a jot. Mr. S. was, however, appalled.

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