The Shop Around the Corner: Push my buttons

If you can’t guess where I’m going to go with this one, you either don’t know me well enough or don’t know the one aspect of this film that I’ll fixate on.

To further elaborate on my obsession, this film is set in a leather-goods shop just off of Andrássy út in Budapest. Which obligates me to wank about setting for a paragraph or two. Overtly, the setting bears a passing resemblance to Budapest, and in particular, to the southern end of Andrássy, arcitecturally and designwise. Perversely, though, it resembles modern Budapest more than pre-war, in terms of characters’ styles and the climate in which they live. Any film set in late-30s Hungary seems damnably artifical without some sort of political undertones. There’s some element of bourgeois/working-class interface in Margaret Sullavan’s interaction with the customers, as well as with the presumably higher-class employees, but Klara Novak is no Anna Édes (probably a good thing, really). But this is all really unfair, because I’m comparing it to Hungariana whereas this is not Hungarian, nor meant to be, but is merely set in Hungary. One final comment before I shut up about setting: the vocabulary and orthography on display is generally correct, except for two things: first, I’m pretty sure the “Co.” part of “Matuscheck és Co.” wouldn’t appear in ’30s Hungarian (which was still linguistically pretty pure, and “company” is not a word in Hungarian), and second, while “Matuschek” might be a preserved German spelling, nobody in Hungary would have a Christian name spelled “Ferencz”.

So, er, shutting up about the setting, and moving on to the story and acting, which I rather enjoyed. The plot was good at the time but has since become a commonplace, not least because both the original stageplay and the movie have spawned remakes. Another digression: this plot, unlike most film plots, has actually become more credible in the revision. Not that You’ve Got Mail was a good movie, mind, but it has a more credible underlying device than its predecessor. People hardly ever send paper mail to complete unknowns, if for no other reason than that a postal address is something of an identity, but a tremendous amount of online contact is anonymous or at least semi-anonymous. End digression, back to actors. Jimmy Stewart plays a fairly typical Jimmy Stewart role, comic, a bit madcap and jumpy with a slightly cruel sense of humor, and very American (no,r eally, this is the last time I mention that this film’s supposed to be set in Hungary). The whole performance sort of orbits around him, althoguh the supporting roles are well-done too, although Sullavan comes across as a bit colorless: the male roles seem to shine a lot more, somehow.

Anyways, it was nice good honest fun, and I’m sorry that most of what I have to say about it is Magyar-fetishism.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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