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The lost movie of the week: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

What better way to start the Christmas period then with a movie where the two protagonists hate each other? This holiday season rediscover this masterpiece from 75 years ago. A movie that invented online dating but through written letters.

Set in Budapest at the brink of World War 2 during the Christmas period. The story is very simple: two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they’re falling in love with each other through anonymous letters.

There have been a few real masters of comedy and Ernst Lubitsch is one of them. He directed masterpieces like “To Be or not to Be” and “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife”. In this movie Lubitsch adepts a Hungarian play by Miklós László. The great power of Lubitsch is that he doesn’t emphasis the romantic elements in his films and the romance and comedy are not the only aspects of the film. There are always subplots throughout his films which are always more serious than its comedic main plot. In this film, the main plot carries a lot of sadness; the two romantic characters seem unable to love except throughout the idealism of the written word. The letters to each other let them escape their everyday life.  James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan act at their usual magnificent level and portray our romantic duo who for most of the film are antagonists to each other. The chemistry between both is uncanny which gives even more power to the letters they are writing to each other. The subplot of the film revolves around the owner of the shop played by Frank Morgan, he suspects his wife is cheating on him but can’t figure out with whom. The movie addresses the subjects of betrayal, secrets, deceptions, suspicions and cruelties.

Before we completely depress the reader, we wanted to point out that the movie is still a comedy, a very sweet comedy. A movie that tackles the nature of life but also exit the pain by approaching the subject with tenderness, sweetness and lot of humanity. This poetic comedy possesses great dialogues, great acting and a director that perfectly balances the movie between drama and comedy.

The film spawned different remakes; the first was “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949), which stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson. And the second was in 1998 by Nora Ephron in her movie “You’ve Got Mail” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

The Shop Around the Corner” contains every elements of a great Christmas movie for the whole family.

Stanley Berenboom

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