Beautifully remastered “The Shop Around the Corner” still has holiday charm

Updated: Feb 13


BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play co-workers, Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak. Both have an anonymous romantic pen-pal, and both plan to meet the opposite friend at this little Budapest nightspot.



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“THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION”


Blu-ray, 1940, unrated


Best extra: “A New Romance of Celluloid: The Miracle of Sound” documentary











THE ONLY way a story as contrived and predictable as the one that unfolds in “The Shop Around the Corner” could succeed, is to have extremely able and appealing actors co-starring in it and, holding the reins, a brilliant producer/director who specializes in comedy.


Sure enough, this 80-year-old classic has all three of those elements going for it, as well as terrific dialogue and a dandy supporting cast. No wonder it remains a holiday favorite and an absolute delight. The story is set in Budapest, but you’d only know that by the characters’ names and the Hungarian signage. All-American actors Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak, two employees at a fine leather accessories shop owned by Hugo Matuschek, a benevolent curmudgeon (Frank Morgan, “The Wizard of Oz”). It’s right before Christmas, and Klara has just been hired after she demonstrates her talent as a top-notch saleswoman.


But, Klara is preoccupied with an anonymous romantic pen-pal, whom she plans to meet in person before long. Meanwhile, she and Alfred get off on the wrong foot with each other from the start, and are constantly bickering. What Klara doesn’t know is that Alfred is the unnamed poetically-inclined author of the love letters. It takes him a while before he discovers Klara is his epistolary girlfriend, but he waits a bit — and has some fun in the process — before he spills the beans. If, somehow, you can’t guess how the story turns out, rest assured that it will be a very merry Christmas in Budapest. If the story seems a bit familiar to you younger viewers, it’s because “Shop Around the Corner” was remade as “You’ve Got Mail” in 1998, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.


(1) “The Shop Around the Corner” is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie, by playwright Miklós László. The film was selected No. 28 in American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Passions, the 100 greatest love stories in American cinema. (2&3) Right, snippy errand boy Pepi (William Tracy) and clerk Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) wait for the arrival of gift shop owner Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). The complete staff waits for Mr. Matuschek to open the door, while he gives Pepi some money to buy some sodium bicarbonate for his upset stomach.


(1) Alfred Kralik reads his latest pen-pal letter. (2-4) Klara Novak arrives at the Matuschek and Company shop looking for a job and tries to sell a music box to a customer.







VIDEO/AUDIO

Warner Archive struck a new 2K master from elements sourced from the original camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio), which gives the black and white image new life. There’s plenty of satisfying filmic grain, excellent detail, and a wide variety of intermediate gray tones. The DTS-HD audio is also very good, with music and sound effects well-modulated and nonintrusive, and the wonderful dialogue always clear. Subtitles are provided if needed.


EXTRAS

The bonus features aren’t great unless you’re a big fan of vintage radio plays. Two of them are offered: A 1940 broadcast of the Screen Guild Players, with Sullavan, Stewart, and Morgan reprising their film roles; and a 1941 version from Lux Radio Theater, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche.


Most enjoyable (to me) is the 1940 documentary explaining how a soundtrack is made for movies. While it ultimately serves as a promotional advertisement for MGM Studios, “A New Romance of Celluloid” also provides some interesting information, such as the fact that celluloid is made from cotton, and that Thomas Edison was the first person to synch images with sound.


An example of how a soundtrack is attached to the film stock is illustrated with a scene in a Nelson Eddy/Jeannette MacDonald musical. The rest of the documentary celebrates past and upcoming MGM features, starring such familiar names as Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr, Spencer Tracy, Norma Shearer, Conrad Veidt, Mickey Rooney, the Marx Brothers, Greer Garson and Judy Garland. It doesn’t take much to imagine this documentary being shown in one of those grand, velvet-appointed old movie palaces, just before the main feature lights up the screen.


— Peggy Earle


(1) At work, Klara Novak and Alfred Kralik argue incessantly.

Miss Novak - All my knowledge came from books, and I'd just finished a novel about a glamorous French actress from the Comedie Francaise. That's the theater in France. When she wanted to arouse a man's interest, she treated him like a dog.

Mr. Kralik - Yes, well, you treated me like a dog.

Miss Novak - Yes, but instead of licking my hand, you barked.

(2) Mr. Matuschek makes his employees stay over to decorate the store for Christmas. (3) A small band plays as Mr. Kralik and Miss Novak search for their pen-pals at the cafe.







(1) Alfred Kralik visits Mr. Matuschek in the hospital after he tried to take his life when he discovered his wife was having an affair. (2) Klara Novak is no longer getting pen-pal letters. (3) Alfred visits Klara who hasn't been feeling well.






Christmas Eve

(1) On cue the snow starts on Christmas Eve in Budapest. (2&3) Mr. Matuschek is feeling much better and arrives at the shop to give out the Christmas bonuses. (4) Alfred reveals his secret love.







Video Clip created before the recent remastering work




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