Matuschek and Company is a famed company in Budapest, Hungary, owned by Hugo Matuschek, the bachelor Alfred Kralik, an affable bachelor, being his best and most experienced salesman, Matuschek knowing just how valuable he is to the shop and its’ success. When Matuschek hires a saleswoman, Klara Novak, he believes Alfred will get along with her, as he does seem to with everybody, but the pair surprisingly do not get along, their mutual animosity becomes very clear. Matuschek does not know that Alfred, who hides his loneliness behind his professionalism, has been corresponding with a pen pal, a young woman who he has never met, both of them using pen names, having arranged to meet her for the fits time and intending to propose to her, but everything goes wrong for Alfred when he is fired without explanation by Matuschek in the night that he is going to meet his mysterious love. Going to their agreed rendezvous point with his colleague Pirovitch, a bar in the middle of the city, he meets his liaison, who turns out to be Klara, but now ashamed of not having a job, he does not reveal who he is. Back at the shop Matuschek discovers that he had made a complete mistake, firing Alfred through a misunderstanding, and he hires him again, promoting him to the position of manager, but Klara does not pay much attention to Alfred, instead wondering why her date did not arrive, and wondering if he has lost interest in her, Alfred knowing that he is going to have to make a brave and possibly humiliating admission.
If the plot of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner
sounds familiar then it certainly should, not only being based on a long-running play, Illatszertajir / Parfumerie
by Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo, but also that the story has been also been filmed as In The Good Old Summertime
, made in 1949, but reworked and updated as 1999’s You’ve Got Mail
, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Retaining the original location of Hungary, Lubitsch confines most of the action to the shop of the title, and gets quite excellent performances from his two leads, Margaret Sullavan (The Mortal Storm / Cry Havoc
) being charming and breezy as the impulsive and warm Klara, while James Stewart gives an uncharacteristic performance as the upright and precise Alfred, a man dedicated to his job but whose professionalism hides a deep loneliness. Getting into contact with his anonymous pen pal after answering an ad in the personal columns, he is soon besotted with her, and intending to propose to her on the first time they meet, and even audiences back at the turn of the century must have seen the supposed surprise twist coming from the raising of the curtain. Lubitsch, who based a lot of the film on his own experiences of working as a child in his own family’s shop in Berlin, demonstrates both is cinematic skill and genuine interest in human emotions, and Stewart’s obvious longing for this unknown woman is very affecting, although it is obvious that there will be a happy ending after all the various misunderstandings and setbacks, Support is strong, with Harry Morgan (TV’s Dragnet / M*A*S*H
) well cast as shop owner Matuschek.