Holiday Movies: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

shop“Well, I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know what I’d find.  Instead of a heart, a handbag.  Instead of a soul, a suitcase.  And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter…which doesn’t work.”   – Klara Novak, addressing her co-worker and nemesis, Alfred Kralik.

Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) work together in a small gift store in Budapest. Well…perhaps “work together” is overstating the situation.  The two clerks loath each other and are barely on speaking terms.  Thank goodness, Kralik has a romantic prospect outside of work; he has been receiving notes through a letter exchange from a young lady interested in dating.  Incidentally, Novak has been using the same letter exchange and also has an opportunity to meet someone special.

If you can’t figure out what happens next, you have probably never seen In the Good Old Summertime, You’ve Got Mail, or any other romantic comedies based on the plot line of this movie, which in turn was based on a play written in 1937 by Miklos Laszlo.  Suffice to say that both characters get a big surprise on Christmas Eve when they find out who they’ve been writing to.

What separates this movie from its successors is the elegant, gay tone set by the director, Ernst Lubitsch.  The quality that Lubitsch always contributed to his comic films has been referred to as “The Lubitsch Touch”:  Sophistication, wit, charm, and sparkling dialog which make each scene a delight.

Below are some typical examples of Shop dialog.  Note how often commerce, a major theme of Shop, is referenced:


First employee:   Always the first one [at work].

Second employee:  It’s none of your business…let me tell you.  It doesn’t hurt to be too early.

First employee:  What for and why?  Who sees you?  Me.  And who sees me?  You.  What does it get us?  Can we give each other a raise?  No.


Customer:  How much is that belt in the window?  The one that’s marked $2.95?


Errand Boy:  Well Doctor, I would say it’s a nervous breakdown.   What do you think?

Doctor:  It appears to be an acute epileptic manifestation and a pan phobic melancholiac with indication of a neurasthenic corpus.

Errand Boy:  Is that more expensive than a nervous breakdown?


Shop is also graced with enjoyable supporting performances from veteran actors Frank Morgan and Felix Bressart.

So, get yourself into the Christmas shopping mood, fix yourself a nice hot toddy and watch this charming film.  It is frequently shown on TCM and can also be purchased from on DVD via the following link:

You can also purchase it on instant download at the following link:

Plus:  Great performances by all, witty dialog, clever story with ending that’s both tender and funny.

Minus:  Can’t think of any; this qualifies as one of those classics you must see.

Cast:  James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart.

Director:  Ernst Lubitsch

Rating:  Unrated

Black and white

Length:  99 minutes






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