Thursday, December 15, 2011

Still Film: Shop Around the Corner (1940).

"Shop Around the Corner", one of my most favorite Christmas-time movies is a strange, quirky, charming, mixed bag of odd plot stories that intertwine in a very smart & sweet way.  There are a seemingly random laundry list of characteristics to this movie that somehow gel perfectly:

It is... charming,
 set during the holidays,
stars Jimmy Stewart
includes a suicide attempt 
(And, no, even though this strangely also describes Its a Wonderful Life, that's not the movie I mean)

 is about cheating spouses, and backstabbing employees
is set in a quirky shop in Hungary filled with American workers who bicker
centers on a romance grown from a common love of books and letters
has great, classic, snippy mars-vs-venus banter
includes a witty, adorable old Jewish wingman
clothes its characters in lovely winter fashions

"Shop Around the Corner" has been copied many times over the years, including more recently the film "You've got Mail", which was a reworking of the plot and characters, but not delivered with as much richness and articulation of theme as in the original. Any gal whose spending New Years cozy at home or just wants a winter themed classic film should add this one to her netflix queue.

I love the subtlety of its holiday theme; rather than a heavy-handed 'Christmas spirit' message, it is part witty romance-part blue blue christmas- part dysfunctional family comedy where the characters love and fret and bicker in front of a snowy holiday backdrop. The film conjures big candle-lit meals of comfort food with lots of charming family bickering, lovely letters you read with a warm drink, cozying in a cafe near window framing a snow scene outside, surviving the holidays far from home (the movie takes place in Budapest community of expats and english speaking locals), and a lonesome but content walk home in the bitter cold of December.

The love-hate family relationship of the employees that underscores the dramedy of workplace minutia, is said to have even inspired my fav Brit comedy, "Are you Being Served?".  The quirky cast makes the film is a stage for great character relationships, not plastic romance film or holiday movie archetypes. The story is centered around absent-minded store owner Mr. Matuschek's (The Wizard from Oz!) gift shop and its cast of employees who's day-to-day hopes and worries make for witty banter and some tense moments. Its hard to imagine writing a more coherent integrated scrip encompassing so many rich intertwining stories: a lonely man struggles with his wife's infidelities and the isolation of his boss position at work, two lonely young singles meet through a classified ad with an exchange of passionate, humorous letters, as two employees compete to vie for the boss' affection, and one employ plots his way to the top in a series of sleazy moves.

Produced just on the brink of the 1940s, the characters' clothing is generally discreet but but includes some quirky pieces (see the polka dot blouse and porkpie-esque hat) and some luxurious winter outerwear.  Amongst all this, is Klara Novak and her super costumes. She's funny and passionate, a little flaky but very quick- and her clothing in this movie is absolutely charming-- a far more whimsical side of 40s style attire than you usually see in films of the era (think: gravely gritty Film Noir flicks and smoldering, brooding femme fatales characters). She's more of a Pierrot meets Annie Hall in her floppy sheer blouses and porkpie hats. Her fashion forward ways-- such as her green and yellow polka dot blouse (pictured below)--- illicit great controversy in the shop (we only know is green and yellow because they refer to its unconventional color combination in the movie dialogue since it is in glorious black and white). Her look is made from mixing high quality natural fabrics in unconventional cuts, balancing the color with dark blacks and browns. She mixes a few structured pieces with loose unstructured blouses, as she also mixes sheers and thicker materials. Prints are in moderation, but are very whimsical (think: large) when worn. Everything she wears-- no matter how lux (ie, the fur coat)-- as an air of casualness to it, especially when worn with her wide brim hat set back low on her crown. Klara's hair is classic 40s pin curl, but in a youthful bob that looks very charming and 20s when paired with her clown-like prints and jumpers.

Sadly, I can't find any credit for the costuming of the film, so I don't know whos behind the Klara Novak creations. As much as she stands out, the rest of the characters' appearances coordinate so well, the fit together seamlessly, looking presentable without drawing attention to the clothing. They all wear well tailored professional clothes in rich winter fabrics- wools, thick cottons, floaty blouses under tweeds and leathers. 

Pithy summary from A Film Canon :

"A comedy of written as much as of spoken language, The Shop Around The Corner is effectively a series of epistolary exchanges, structured around the pseudonymous love letters of antagonistic shophands Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Clara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). Throughout, Lubitsch ensures that these characters speak written language - especially Alfred, whose ponderous, deliberate register suggests careful mental composition, and results in speech continually congratulated for its precision, eloquence and intelligence. This produces a cerebral romance - a meeting of "beautiful thoughts" - in which Alfred and Clara's real ambition is to treat each other as a surrogate book, as evinced in Alfred's admission that he only experimented with love letters because he couldn't afford a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as his insistence that a wallet is the most romantic gift possible, since it presents two pages that can be occupied by the letters and photographs of the beloved. Even the lovers' antagonism is deflected through this precision; or, alternatively, through the penetrating eye for detail characteristic of the best salespeople, which ultimately transcends its antagonistic context: "Although I'm the victim of your remark, I can't help admiring the exquisite way you have of expressing yourself." This is overlaid with a Christmas pathos encompassing financial struggle, the petty frustrations and disempowerments of shop life, and the prospect of loneliness, all of which culminate with shopowner Hugo Matuschek's (Frank Morgan) bittersweet recognition that his stable of shophands are his real family, and their humble microcosm his real home."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...