“The Shop Around the Corner” is an MGM movie starring Jimmy Stewart that combines elements of comedy, drama and romance to tell the story of a retail store in Budapest, Hungary called Matuschek and Company. Mr. Matuschek, played by Frank Morgan is the owner of a leather goods store that is struggling to survive at the end of the Great Depression. Matuschek is enthusiastic, self-important and comically hot-headed.
His lead salesman is Alfred Kralik, played by Stewart. Kralik is intelligent, earnest and falling in love with a woman he’s never met. He’s in an anonymous pen-pal relationship with a woman that he knows simply as “dear friend.” As it turns out dear friend also happens to be his co-worker Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan. But in their real life Kralik and Klara detest each other. In addition to this comedy of errors love/hate relationship, there are other characters and other sub-plots. Kralik’s closest friend at the shop is Mr. Pirovitch played in a wonderfully comic turn by Felix Bressart. Pirovitch is Mr. Matuschek’s favorite whipping boy. His favorite statement is “Pirovitch you’re an idiot.” To which the meek Pirovitch replies, “Yes, Mr. Matuschek, I’m an idiot.”
There is Ferencz Vadas, another of the sales clerks, played with enormous pomposity and self-regard by Joseph Schildkraut. And finally, there is the errand boy Pepi Katona who snipes sarcastically at all his superiors and ends up as the hero of the second plot line. For along with the romance there is a drama. Mr. Matuschek has become aware of the fact that his wife is having an affair and he believes it is with one of his employees. And since Kralik has had the most opportunity to meet Mrs. Matuschek he is the prime suspect. So, whereas formerly Matuschek treated Kralik almost as a son now he hates and distrusts him. After goading Kralik into anger, Matuschek discharges him. But when the private detectives finish their investigation, they name Mr. Vadas as Matuschek’s rival. With his life in shambles Matuschek attempts to end it all with a pistol. But in the nick of time Pepi breaks in on his suicide and hands Matuschek over to the hospital for psychiatric observation.
Meanwhile Kralik discovers that on top of being fired his “dear friend” is Klara Novak. He finds this out when he is supposed to be meeting her at a café with each of them wearing a carnation. Spying Klara’s carnation from outside he throws away his carnation and pretends that he was just stopping at the café to meet Pirovitch. Klara accuses him of trying to spoil her prospective date, insults him and finishes by calling him an insignificant clerk. After this he leaves in complete dejection and misery.
But in the next act Matuschek calls Kralik to his hospital bed to apologize for his terrible treatment and to beg him to come back and manage the store while Matuschek recuperates from his nervous breakdown. Even Pepi is rewarded for saving Mr. Matuschek by becoming a salesman. Now with roles reversed Klara is dejected because her date never showed up and on top of that she finds that the man she insulted is now her boss. But all ends well. Kralik fires the despicable Vadas in royal fashion. The store has a stellar Christmas sales total and Mr. Matuschek returns in time to give everyone a wonderful bonus. And finally, the lovers are re-united. But first Kralik has some fun with Klara by pretending that he had met her “dear friend” and he was fat, bald, old, and a greedy fraud. When Klara finally discovers that Kralik is her “dear friend” she is relieved and happy.
This is a relatively silly story. But the dialogue and the acting are remarkably good. Even the minor parts are played skillfully and with great comic verve. There is great heart here. And the humanity of all the characters, even the villainous Vadas feels very real. You believe the story. There is a Dickensian feel to the production. I highly recommend this story to everyone. It’s a gem.