Romance in the Days Before e-mail


With the opening Friday of “You’ve Got Mail,” Warner Bros.’ big holiday romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, why not head to your local video store to check out the two films on which it is based: the magical 1940 “The Shop Around the Corner” (MGM, $20) and the 1949 Judy Garland musical “In the Good Old Summertime” (MGM, $20)?

Directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch (“Ninotchka,” “To Be or Not to Be”) and written by his frequent collaborator, Samson Raphaelson, “The Shop Around the Corner” is one of the most satisfying romantic comedies and merriest Christmas movies ever made.

In fact, Lubitsch once said that he felt he never made a “human comedy” that was as good: “Never did I make a picture in which the atmosphere and the characters were truer than in this picture.”


Based on the play “Parfumerie” by Nikolaus Laszlo, “The Shop Around the Corner” stars James Stewart in one of his most endearing performances as Alfred Kralik, a mild-mannered young man who works as a sales clerk in a Budapest notions shop. Kralik is a genius in the eyes of the shop’s owner, Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Also in the tight-knit group of employees at Matuschek’s a1919229952Perovitch (Felix Bressart), an aging clerk who hates confrontation; Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut), a playboy who seems suddenly to have come into money; and Pepi (William Tracy), an aspiring clerk.

Into this rather happy mix arrives Klara Novak (the luminous Margaret Sullavan), an unemployed worker who begs Matuschek for a job. After she sells a big cigar box to a woman as a perfect container for candy, he gives her the job, much to the chagrin of Kralik.

Unbeknown to the bickering Kralik and Novak, they are actually pen pals who answered a “Lonely Hearts” ad in the paper. The only thing Kralik knows about the charming young woman he’s fallen in love with is her post office box number--237.

How the two finally discover they are in love is utterly delightful, clever and oh so romantic. Sullavan and Stewart made several films together in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, but they never meshed so well as in this comedy. Though Stewart won his best-actor Oscar the same year for “The Philadelphia Story,” he’s even better in this. The ending will definitely tug at your heartstrings.

Nine years later, MGM remade “The Shop Around the Corner” as the Judy Garland vehicle “In the Good Old Summertime.” She portrays Veronica Fisher, who works in a Chicago music store at t1751457794turn of the century. Veronica plays piano and sells sheet music, and is constantly at odds with Andrew Larkin (Van Johnson), who sells musical instruments. Neither has a clue that they are pen536870912pals whose letters to each other are becoming increasingly romantic.

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, “Summertime” also features a fine supporting cast that includes S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington, Clinton Sundberg and Buster Keaton. Look for an 18-month-old Liza Minnelli in the final scene. Songs include such standards as ‘I Don’t Care,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and “Put Your Arms Around Me Honey.”


Both “The Shop Around the Corner” and “In the Good Old Summertime” will also air today beginning at 5 p.m. on cable’s Turner Classic Movies.