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It now looks like I will be going down to Birmingham tomorrow morning to take over primary duties on the parent front, but since I was still in Leeds last night I seized my chance to go along and see this at the Cottage Road cinema, along with ms_siobhan and big_daz.

It is basically a typical romance story of the Hollywood Golden Era, in which the primary plot-line is all about how the lead couple will negotiate the various obstacles in their path and get together, and the final scene is them kissing. But that's fine by me - especially when the lead gentleman is James Stewart. This is the fourth classic film I've seen him in now (the others being Destry Rides Again (1939), It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and Harvey (1950)), and since a major part of his characterisation in this one is that he looks immaculately turned-out throughout, I must say it is possibly his most visually-appealing role so far. :-)

In this particular film, the plot is a lot like The Piña Colada Song, in which a couple who have grown bored of each other both think they are cheating on each other with an exciting-sounding new flame from the personal ads who likes Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain, except that when they finally meet up, it turns out they were corresponding with each other all along. In The Shop Around the Corner, the main romantic couple aren't already dating - instead, they work in a fancy goods shop together, think each other rude and interested only in commerce, and consequently bicker all the time. And all the time they are corresponding anonymously about romance and Victor Hugo, rather than Piña Coladas. But the basic point that we craft or project different personalities in different contexts, and yet don't usually bother to probe behind other people's projections and discover what else might be hiding there, is the same in both. It is based on a Hungarian play called Parfumerie, which was apparently also reworked for the modern age as You've Got Mail, but I haven't seen that so can't comment on the similarities.

In The Piña Colada Song, though, both members of the couple discover that their anonymous correspondent is actually their current lover at exactly the same time, whereas in The Shop Around the Corner, James Stewart's character (Alfred Kralik) discovers Margaret Sullavan (Klara Novak)'s secret half-way through the film, while she doesn't discover the truth until the final scene. This means a significant power imbalance, along predictably gendered lines, in that he can 'work' on her throughout the second half of the film, gradually eroding her romantic illusions about the letter-writer and engineering things so that she will come to see the real him as something more that the 'insignificant little clerk' she once thought instead. That grated a little as I watched, but then again it did mean some quite rich character moments for him towards the end of the film, because as he pointed out to Klara that her beloved letter-writer was (for example) stealing all his romantic lines from great works of literature, he was of course also deconstructing his own carefully-crafted façade personality. A story in which two people find out the identities of their romanticised anonymous ideal lovers simultaneously doesn't quite allow space for watching either of them go through this process of self-deconstruction, so that their 'stage' and work-a-day personalities can gradually converge, and I guess in retrospect that is an interesting psychological process to explore.

Meanwhile, there is all sorts of other stuff going on around the core romance plot. The shop in which they work is owned by Mr. Matuschek, played by none other than Frank Morgan, much better-known to me (and I'm sure most people) as the Wizard of Oz. I don't think I've actually ever seen him in any other role, so that was fun - though he is playing a very similar character here, full of bluster but with a warm heart. A total of seven staff work under him, and there is lots of comedy around their day-to-day interactions which had us roaring with laughter. Apparently, Are You Being Served? took this film as part of its inspiration, although because the film was made in 1940 and not the 1970s there are no double-entendres, and the character who looked to us at first sight like a screaming Queen was evidently meant to be read more as a gigolo, since it turned out that he was having an affair with Mr. Matuschek's wife. There is a rather sombre sub-plot around this, in which Alfred Kralik at first finds himself getting fired by Mr. Matuschek without understanding that it is because he has been (wrongly) suspected of being his wife's lover, Matuschek himself attempts suicide, and then gradually the truth comes out and Kralik gets his revenge on the gigolo character, all of which felt a bit out of place in a romantic comedy. But otherwise it is generally a film full of well-delineated characters, whom it is a pleasure to see interacting with one another.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
Aside from the nudity at the end I really enjoyed it and I understand your disquiet at James Stewart character having more knowledge than Maragaret Sullavans but he is also rather disquieted at having aggrandised himself in the letters and so having to readjust things.

Plus the gigolo character was screaming - I'm sure he was only playing along with Mrs Matuschek so he could take those diamond trifles home to his chap ;-)

I especially enjoyed the banter and the characters of the errand boys and the man with a poorly wife.

Hope it goes as okay as possible in Birmingham.
Dec. 7th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
The 'nudity' (if such we can call a brief glimpse of James Stewart's calves) was a positive bonus as far as I'm concerned! I like your theory about the gigolo character, too. Makes a lot more sense than the idea that he might actually have been straight. ;-)
Dec. 7th, 2013 10:48 am (UTC)
I remember watching this on television about twenty years ago or whenever You Got Mail came out, because I'd seen You Got Mail at the cinema (or was planning to).

As I recall, You Got Mail suffers in the same way, with Tom Hanks' character finding out before Meg Ryan's, and so gaining the advantage in their (potential) relationship. I think having the revelation staggered like that helps prolong the concept over a feature length running time... but of *course* it's the man finding out before the woman, isn't it?

I'm pretty sure I didn't pick up on that kind of thing as an overly romantic teenager, but it would definitely bug me now! Oh, and don't get me started on the Pina Colada song.

I do remember enjoying the film, though at the time I wasn't used to films of the period. Nice to hear that it would hold up even now that I'm older!
Dec. 7th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
Actually, I quite like The Piña Colada Song! Partly because some of my friends used to call me Piña Colada at school (because of the minor aural resemblance between 'Penny' and 'Piña', I believe), so I thought of it as 'my song' from the first time I heard it, in the same way as I do with 'Penny Lane'.

Anyway, thanks for the low-down on You've Got Mail, and yes, I can definitely confirm that The Shop Around the Corner is still very much worth watching. :-)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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