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Ernst Lubitsch
James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan
Writing Credits:
Samson Raphaelson

Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 12/22/2020

• “The Miracle of Sound” Featurette
• 9/29/40 Radio Broadcast
• 6/23/41 Radio Broadcast
• Trailer


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The Shop Around the Corner [Blu-Ray] (1940)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 3, 2020)

Actors Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart starred together four times, with the final two in 1940. June of that year brought their final effort via The Mortal Storm, a somber tale about Nazi Germany.

January 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner delivered something lighter, as it mixed comedy, drama and romance. Oh, and it included Frank Morgan of Wizard of Oz fame, also part of the Mortal Storm cast!

Set in Hungary, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) works as the head clerk at a gift shop. Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) comes to hunt for a job; Alfred tells her they’re not hiring, but she impresses store owner Hugo Matsuschek (Frank Morgan) and she lands a clerk position.

In the meantime, both Klara and Alfred correspond with pen pals – pen pals who just happen to be each other. This goes on for months, and as the pair grow anonymously attached via their missives, they build a real-life dislike for each other at the shop. This builds toward a clash of worlds.

Back in 1996, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan paired for their third film, You’ve Got Mail. With a $115 million take in the US, it became a moderate hit, one that landed in 14th place at the year’s box office.

Why mention this? Because Mail offered a late 20th century update on Shop and acts as a remake, although the Mail credits solely allude to Nikolaus Laszlo’s 1937 play on which Shop came based.

Maybe others will disagree, but I think Shop offers a substantially superior film when compared to You’ve Got Mail. I will admit Mail better builds the animosity between its leads, though.

Shop tells us that Alfred and Klara dislike each other and that’s about it. We don’t view the growth of their relationship, so they’re just foes without much natural progression.

Otherwise, Shop works better in every way. The actors give their roles more character and heart, and the film lacks the annoying cutesy, cloying nature of Mail.

Shop is wittier and more concise, and it abandons the cheap melodrama of Mail. It’s a winning movie.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Shop Around the Corner appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer worked well, especially given the movie’s age.

Sharpness satisfied overall. Virtually no issues with softness materialized, so the film appeared well-defined and accurate.

Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems. Edge haloes remained absent, and with a layer of fine grain, I suspected no issues with digital noise reduction.

Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and contrast was appropriately displayed. The movie showed a good silvery look, and shadow detail was also concise and developed.

Source flaws failed to become an issue. The transfer eliminated those defects and left this as a clean presentation. I felt very happy with this appealing transfer.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack, it replicated the original material with positive quality. Dialogue seemed fine for its era, and was relatively crisp and well-defined with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

The movie featured a fairly spare score, but when we heard music, it was acceptably broad and clear. The material presented little low end but the dynamics were fine for a track of this vintage.

Though effects were similarly dated, they seemed adequately clean and realistic, and no aspects of the mix displayed signs of distortion. Background noise failed to become an issue. All in all, the audio worked fine for its age.

A few extras appear here, and a vintage short called The Miracle of Sound runs 10 minutes, 57 seconds. It brings a behind the scenes look and sound engineer Douglas Shearer demonstrates how filmmakers add audio to movies.

We visit the set of the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy flick Bitter Sweet and see shots on the MGM lot. It’s mildly informative and a fun glimpse at the era’s movie processes, even if it often acts to promote then-current films more than it gives us nuts and bolts.

We get two radio adaptations of Shop here. The first comes from a September 29, 1940 Screen Guild Players broadcast (29:46), while the second offers a June 23, 1941 episode of Lux Radio Theater (59:53).

On the positive side, “Guild” brings James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan back to play their parts. On the negative side, its short length means it cuts the story to the bone.

As such, “Guild” offers only the basics and loses a number of characters and subplots. Still, it’s fun to hear as an abbreviated version of the story, especially since it changes up matters a little to allow the compact rendition to work.

With “Lux”, we find Don Ameche and Claudette Colbert as the leads. Only one member of the original cast returns: Felix Bressart as “Pierovitch”.

Though “Lux” gives him the name “Peters” and Americanizes all the characters. The movie and “Guild” use the original play’s setting in Hungary, whereas “Lux” brings it stateside, even though it never mentions a specific setting.

I prefer this, as it feels more natural to set the tale in the US. Given the fact most of the movie’s actors clearly hail from the States, it made little sense to place Shop in Hungary, and the narrative never uses that location in any way that impacts the story.

As for the actors, Colbert ably stands in for Sullavan, but I feel a bit less satisfied with Ameche. He lacks Stewart’s boyish charm, and given the way “Martin” can seem vaguely sadistic, he comes across as a little churlish compared to Stewart.

Still, he does fine overall, and “Lux” maintains a lot more of the core narrative than “Guild”, of course. It diminishes some of the roles, and I miss the upwardly-mobile teen Pepi the most, as William Tracy steals the show in the film.

Nonetheless, at least “Lux” becomes a better representation of the original film than “Guild”, even without the flick’s leads. Keep an ear out for small turns from Bea ”Betty Rubble” Benaderet and Disney favorite Verna Felton,

The disc finishes with the movie’s trailer. At four minutes, five seconds, it seems unusually long for this kind of ad, and it offers unique content, as actor Frank Morgan leads us through the film – with a short and humorous appearance by director Ernst Lubitsch at the end. It becomes more interesting than the average trailer.

Better known nowadays as the precursor to 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner offers a charming affair. Unlike its successor, Shop brings a romantic comedy with actual romance and comedy. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture along with appropriate audio and a few bonus materials. Shop holds up as a likable tale 80 years after its debut.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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