THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, 1940
Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy
"Matuschek's" is the gift shop around the corner. Among the staff is Alfred Kralik, a likeable young man who's in love with a woman he has never met and whose name he doesn't even know (their "romance" has been conducted through a post office box). When Klara Novak comes to work as a clerk in the shop, the sparks begin to fly: she and Alfred can't stand each other. Of course, what neither knows is that Klara is the woman Alfred has been romancing through the mail!
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Without a doubt, James Stewart is an icon. But he found his place Hollywood thanks largely to Margaret Sullavan, who campaigned for Stewart to be her leading man. She rehearsed extensively with him, having a noticeable effect on his confidence. Sullavan encouraged Stewart to feel comfortable with his unique mannerisms and boyish charm and use them naturally as his own style.
The two would play in several films together such as The Shop around the Corner. During this time, Sullavan was a big name which gave her top billing over Stewart who was just starting out. But Sullavan knew which audiences would quickly discover, that Stewart was a huge talent waiting to his stardom. Not shortly after this film did he become the icon that he is today.
Co-workers Klara Novak (Sullavan) and Alfred Kralik (Stewart) hold an intense dislike for each other, while maintaining a secret letter-writing relationship, neither realizing who their pen-pal is. They fall in love via their correspondence, while being antipathetic and peevish towards one another in real life. A major subplot concerns the apparent infidelity of the store owner's wife, and its spillover effect upon the various working relationships in the shop.
The Shop around the Corner would later inspire You’ve Got Mail which starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The plot centered on two people who didn’t like each other, similar to Stewart and Sullavan, but had some romantic connection through the email correspondence to one another without ever realizing who they were speaking with. The store in film where Ryan works is also called The Shop around the Corner.
The film has a lot of charm and that’s why it works so well. Sullavan and Stewart are excellent together as they throw jabs at one another, trying to one up the other with witty one liners. Yet when they’re alone and corresponding to one anther the chemistry is resonates throughout the movie. It’s subtle but effective.
Many people say sex sells. Well, they’re right. However charm can also be just as effective when done correctly and in the hands of the right actors who can naturally convey such a trait. Charm doesn’t always come off the paper. It’s sometimes up to the actors to know how to evoke such a quality and try to hold on to it throughout the film.
The Shop around the Corner is an engaging, witty, and yes charming film starring two excellent actors whose friendship off camera worked well in the creation of the movie. Sullavan was actually married to Henry Fonda at one point, another close friend to Stewart. It seems he was lucky enough to surround himself with such talented actors and genuine friends during his fledging career that it helped to develop Stewart’s craft into something to admired for later generations. Hey, many say Tom Hanks is the new James Stewart. Nothing wrong with that.