Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

In Ernst Lubitsch's brilliant, charming and sophisticated romantic comedy about mistaken identities, the story was portrayed by everyday people in a "shop around the corner" - the main characters were two feuding, lonely-hearts co-workers who were also pen pals in a love-hate relationship - [Note: it was remade by Hollywood as You've Got Mail (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan]:

  • the setting: a Budapest (Hungary) notions/gift and leather goods shop, named Matuschek and Company, owned by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan), where head sales clerk: bookish, mild-mannered and bashful bachelor Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) was a long-time top employee
  • one of the products in the shop, stubbornly promoted by Matuschek, was a cigarette box selling for 4.25 that played the tune: "Ochi Tchornya"; desperate job-seeker Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) in her first scene, entered the store and proved her ability to sell by suggesting the product's use as a weight-controlling candy box to a female customer - and even negotiated for a higher price: ("Now, this little box makes you candy-conscious. That's what Matuschek and Company designed it for. Every time you open it, this tinkling little song is a message to you. 'Too much candy, now be careful'!"); for her clever selling skills, she was offered a job by Matuschek; Alfred offered his own downgraded assessment: "I think people who like to smoke candy and listen to cigarettes will love it"; for the remainder of the film, however, no other cigarette boxes were sold
  • the scenes of the constant dislike, arguments, insults and mutual bickering between the newly-hired shopgirl and Alfred; both were unaware that they were each other's anonymous, love-struck pen pals who were writing each other very literate correspondence; they were, on paper, romantically compatible and corresponded with affectionate "lonely-hearts" letters
  • one of Klara's letters, read outloud by Alfred, began with her joy at receiving his letter: "My heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there. Oh, my Dear Friend"
  • the scene of Alfred's firing by his employer Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) - wrongly suspected of having an affair with the owner's wife (never-seen)
  • in a memorable scene at Cafe Nizza that same night, unemployed Alfred was convinced by co-worker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) to go ahead with his date with his pen pal sweetheart; Pirovitch had looked through the window and told Alfred that his date looked just like Klara Novak from the store and encouraged him to follow through; when Alfred entered, he didn't reveal his secret identity to her, and talked to her only as a co-worker; he suggested: "There are many things you don't know about me, Miss Novak. As a matter of fact, there might be a lot we don't know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth"; she was less than interested: "Well, I really wouldn't care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I'd find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter which doesn't work"; he considered her answer a "mixture of poetry and meanness"
  • he remained in the cafe and sat down behind her, but she thought he was sabotaging her date: "Are you deliberately trying to spoil my evening? Why do you want to do me harm? Why do you hate me so?"; he proved her point when he told her: "You may have very beautiful thoughts, but you certainly hide them. As far as your actions are concerned, you're cold and snippy like an old maid, and you're gonna have a tough time getting a man to fall in love with you"
  • Kralik's redemption: the seducer of Matuschek's wife was revealed to be another employee, womanizing Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut); now vindicated, forgiven, rehired, and given the task of firing Vadas, Alfred called him a "two-faced, double-crossin' two-timer"; he pushed Vadas into a pile of the cigarette boxes that collapsed onto the floor and began playing the tune in discordant ways; as a reference letter, Alfred recommended Vadas as a "stool pigeon, a trouble-maker, and a rat"
  • in the happy conclusion two weeks later on Christmas Eve, while Alfred and Klara were alone in the store, he told her that he had just recently met her mystery-man fiancee - a Mr. Mathias Popkin; he described him as overweight, balding, depressed, unemployed, and a plagiarist; then, he grabbed her and confided that he couldn't keep his secret any longer: "My dearest, sweetheart Klara, I can't stand it any longer. Please, take your key and open post office box 237 and take me out of my envelope and kiss me" - he placed a carnation on his lapel - she registered shock and amazement that he was her mystery pen-pal correspondent - her "Dear Friend"; she asked: "You? Dear Friend?"
  • Alfred asked if she was "disappointed" - she disclosed: "Psychologically, I'm very confused. But personally, I don't feel bad at all"; she reminded him how rude she had been in the Cafe on their first date, and that she had called him bow-legged; in the final words of the film, he affirmed: "Oh, well, but, and I was going to prove to you that I wasn't. I was going to go out to the street and pull up my trousers" - she asked: "Well, would you mind very much if I asked you to pull them up now?" - after raising his pants legs, she took one look - and then they hugged and kissed before the final fade-out


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