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On Jan. 12, 1940, MGM unveiled the James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan rom-com in theaters. The underlying story, a play titled Parfumerie, later inspired the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, titled “‘Shop Around the Corner’ Socko in Entertainment,” is below:
In The Shop Around the Corner MGM has another hit and Lubitsch another triumph. In addition, it marks the most welcome return to pictures of Margaret Sullavan, rings up another top performance for Jimmie Stewart and gives the audience a picture it can really go home and talk about.
It’s grand entertainment from the first to the last foot. There’s not a second of the picture’s [unreeling] that you would care to miss. It will win new audiences for pictures and return many of the old customers who have deserted because of double bills or flop shows.
The picture is a triumph for Ernst Lubitsch from beginning to end. We don’t believe the industry can boast another director who could have handled this subject as he did. These “Lubitsch touches” that used to highlight news columns several years ago and which made such good copy for those columns, predominate in this subject as much as they did in the same director’s Ninotchka, but, in this modest little story, Lubitsch seems to have reached his pinnacle of “touches,” which is the main reason for the success of the entertainment. However, the great Lubitsch effort should and will take nothing away from the fine writing job of Samson Raphaelson and the performances of a top cast. Each element was fortunate to have had the others.
The story concerns Hugo Matuschek, his luggage and gift shop around the corner, and the six people he has working in that shop. It’s a most human recording of the opening of that shop in the morning until its closing at night, detailing the great shock of Matuschek when he finds his wife of many years has been having a rendezvous with one of his clerks. He suspects and finds the wrong one, but later finds out, through a detective agency, of his mistake, and rights the wrong. And then there is the great romance of Kralik, the clerk, who has been corresponding with a girl he has never seen, only to find that it is one of the girls in the shop to whom he had been writing violent love missives. She does not know it’s Kralik, however, until the last few feet of the picture. And together with this blasted romance and the one that has just come into bloom, you have some of the grandest characters that have ever been written into a screenplay, all highlighting the action of the story.
Margaret Sullavan was an ideal Klara, who lived for the letters she got out of her post office box each day. She has never been seen to better advantage nor given a better performance. And James Stewart, fresh from his triumphs away from his home lot, returns in a part that gives no water to any other he has played save, probably, his Mr. Smith.
Frank Morgan was a most delightful “Mister Matuschek,” a part that afforded him acting opportunities he has rarely had in pictures. Felix Bressart could not have been duplicated as Pirovitch, and William Tracy as Pepi was the surprise hit of the supporting cast. The others, including Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Inez Courtney, Edwin Maxwell, Charles Halton and Charles Smith were all excellent.
The production was complete in every detail and the photography of William Daniels was top class. — Staff review, originally published on January 3, 1940
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