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Film / The Shop Around the Corner

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A classic 1940 Romantic Comedy from legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering co-workers in a leather goods store who are also (unbeknownst to them) pen pals in love. Set in Budapest, Hungary, since it was based on the play Parfumerie by Hungarian author Miklós László.

Remade in 1949 as the musical film In the Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson and set in Chicago in The Gay '90s. Adapted as the Broadway musical She Loves Me in 1963. Remade again in 1998 as You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, with newfangled technology like email and instant messaging.

This film features examples of:

  • Acquainted in Real Life: Bitter coworkers ignorant to the fact that they are each other's pen pal.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Though already a bit full of himself, Pepi's holiday promotion to sales clerk puffs him up even further, prompting him to throw his weight around with the new delivery boy Rudy.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The Shop Around the Corner is adapted from the play Parfumerie.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between the two leads.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    Miss Novak: Mr. Kralik, I don't like you.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome:
    • Subverted. Kralik pretends that he met Miss Novak's "Dear Friend," and insults him. before The Reveal. She admits then she'd long hoped it would be him.
    • Played straight earlier in the film, when Miss Novak receives a letter from the "Dear Friend", who says he saw her with Mr. Kralik at the restaurant. "Who is this very attractive young man? He's just the type women fall for."
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Kralik reveals, while reading his first letter, that his Dear Friend said they should avoid the topic of what they do for a living.
  • The Comically Serious: A Lubitsch trademark, in that everyone in the film is this, except for Vadas (who isn't actually funny but who wears a perpetual smirk.) Critic David Thomson notes that Kralik and Miss Novak in particular are almost entirely humourless, which just makes them funnier.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Where does Klara find a job in Budapest? The store where her anonymous pen pal works.
  • Dating Service Disaster: Two anonymous pen pals fall in love with each other, then meet in real life (without realising that they're pen pals) and hate each other.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Miss Novak eventually tells Kralik that she had a crush on him from the start and was rude to him because she'd been reading a book where a glamorous French stage actress made herself irresistible to admiring men by treating them like dogs—but that only worked because she was a glamorous French stage actress rather than a shop clerk.
  • Dramatic Irony: From the point Kralik knows who his "Dear Friend" is, and Miss Novak doesn't.
  • Faint in Shock: Klara collapses when she learns that Mr. Kralik is now managing the store.
  • Food Porn: When Mr. Matuschek invites errand boy Rudy to share Christmas dinner with him:
    Matuschek: Rudy, do you like chicken noodle soup?
    Rudy: I certainly do, Mr. Matuschek.
    Matuschek: And what would you think of roast goose stuffed with baked apples, and fresh boiled potatoes in butter, and some red cabbage on the side, huh?
    Rudy: I'd love it!
    Matuschek: And then some cucumber salad with sour cream...
    Rudy: Oh, Mr. Matuschek!
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Back then it didn't seem hard to imagine becoming engaged over the weekend to a man you have never even met face-to-face. Of course, they have written to each other for some time by that point.
  • The Friend No One Likes: Even before the revelations that he's the one having an affair with Mrs. Matuschek, Vadas is this, largely due to his sycophantic, smarmy behavior. However, he appears not to recognize this, and is thus very surprised when nobody comes to his defense after Kralik fires him.
  • Gold Digger: Vadas, who is bleeding Mrs. Matuschek (and thus her husband) for money and favors.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Mrs. Matuschek. The closest we come is phone conversations with her.
  • Hidden Depths: Kralik is brusque and businesslike, and Miss Novak can be blunt, but they're both deeply sensitive people underneath their exteriors.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Upon first meeting her, Mr. Matuschek assures Miss Novak that "impossible" is not in the store's vocabulary. When he finds out she's looking for a job, he replies, "Oh no no, that's impossible! Out of the question!".
  • Internal Reveal: When Miss Novak finally finds out who her Dear Friend is in the final scene, while the audience found out halfway through.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Mr. Matuschek with a gun (interrupted by Pepi) when he finds out his wife has been cheating on him with Mr. Vadas instead of Mr. Kralik (as he originally suspected). He does it not so much because of the infidelity itself, but because he feels guilty about suspecting Kralik in the first place, and firing him. Though when he returns from the hospital, the bittersweet pain in his eyes at being welcomed "Home" by his employees shows that he knows that the workplace has become more of a home to him than his actual house.
  • Last-Name Basis: The shop workers all address each other as "Mr. _____" or "Miss _____". Kralik does start privately calling Miss Novak "Klara" once he begins to care for her, though.
  • Living with the Villain: Or at least working with him/her.
  • Love Before First Sight: The two leads fall in love through written letters, and had exchanged the first few before Miss Novak arrives at the shop looking for a job.
  • Match Cut: Pepi opens the front door to the shop, followed immediately by Kralik opening the office door.
  • Married to the Job: Mr. Matuschek. Even more so after he discovers his wife has been cheating on him.
  • Mean Boss: Mr. Matuschek crosses into this a little bit through the early part of the movie, although he undergoes something of a Heel–Face Turn after surviving his suicide attempt, winding up as something almost like a Team Dad.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Inverted; Mr. Matuschek knows that his wife is cheating with one of his employees and comes to the conclusion that it is Mr. Kralik. It's really Mr. Vadas.
  • Pen Pals: Alfred and Klara fall in love through anonymous pen pal letters.
  • Running Gag: Whenever Matuschek asks for someone's "honest opinion", Pirovich leaves the room.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Why Miss Novak likes the music box.
    Miss Novak: Well, cigarettes and music, I don't know. It makes me think of moonlight. And cigarettes. And music.
  • Smug Snake: Vadas.
  • Stood Up: Kralik didn't intend to stand Miss Novak up—but he loses his job. And then she's particularly cruel to him at the restaurant after he comes in and sits at her table. So he goes home without revealing himself. Miss Novak takes being Stood Up very badly.
  • Sugary Malice: Vadas likes to make insinuating comments and then points out that he did not technically say anything wrong when the other person gets defensive.
  • Techno Babble:
    Doctor: It appears to be an acute epileptoid manifestation and a pan phobic melancholiac with indication of a neurasthenia cords.
    Pepi: Is that more expensive than a nervous breakdown?
  • The '30s: Technically from 1940, but the feeling is much more Depression-era '30s than WWII-era '40s: Matuschek worries about money, Miss Novak desperately needs a job, and Kralik is less than overjoyed by the prospect of having to look for another one. When they have the best sales day in years Matuschek remarks that it was the best since '28.note  (The play on which it was based premiered in 1937.)
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Pepi after he's promoted to clerk.
  • Translation Convention: They live in Hungary, after all. note 
  • True Companions: Mr. Matuschek says that Kralik is like a son to him. Also, he takes the new delivery boy home for Christmas Eve dinner after discovering that both of them are spending the holiday alone.
  • Tsundere: Miss Novak to Kralik. One of the most well known early examples in fiction (Type 2 to be exact), Lampshaded when she said she read a book that tells her that if you treat a man like a dog he'll be eating out of your hand but all he did was return the favor.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Between Klara, her all-too-flawed Belligerent Sexual Tension co-worker Kralik, and her ideal lover, the anonymous pen pal "Dear Friend"—who is also Kralik.
  • Unseen Pen Pal: Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak correspond through letters after answering a Lonely Hearts ad in the newspaper, calling each other "Dear Friend". However, when the two unknowingly meet in real life as work colleagues, they get off on the wrong foot. When the pen pals agree to meet in person and Alfred realizes the truth first, he lashes out, while also not telling her who he is so that she thinks she was stood up. However, he realizes his mistake and decides to woo Klara in real life while also undermining his Dear Friend persona, so that she wouldn't be as upset as he was when he finally tells her. It works so well that Klara is actually relieved when he reveals himself, since she no longer has to worry about choosing between them.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: How Miss Novak manages to get a job with Matuschek. She sees a customer examining the cigarette box and pretends to be a clerk, commenting that it's a lovely box. The customer asks if it's a candy box, and Miss Novak, seeing that the customer wants it to be one, says that it is. She then opens it, demonstrating that it plays a tune. The customer thinks that this is a terrible idea. ("Imagine, every time you take a piece of candy, you have to listen to that song.") Miss Novak agrees, but says that that's precisely what's good about it; noticing that the customer herself is a bit overweight, she says "There's no denying that we all have a weakness for candy" and explains that they designed the box in such a way that it plays a tune to remind you that you're about to eat yet another piece ("This little box makes you candy-conscious.") The customer asks how much it is, and Miss Novak quotes her a price which is more than they were planning to sell it at, adding that it's reduced from twice as much again. The customer buys it. Miss Novak gets hired.