I would like to talk about my favorite Christmas movie starring Jimmy Stewart. It isn’t “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As much as that movie influences my life’s affirmations and aspirations, there’s another holiday movie starring a younger Jimmy Stewart that I want to bring to your attention entitled “The Shop Around the Corner,” adapted from a play by Nikolaus László.
The film portrays the romantic endeavor of store clerk Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart), who over the holiday season falls in love with his anonymous pen pal, who happens to be the coworker he despises: Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan.
If that sounds familiar to you, the same play was later adapted into “You’ve Got Mail” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Neither of the two know that the source of some of the loveliest letters they have ever read came from their fellow fiendish floor assistant. The two writers work at Matuschek and Co., one of the big department stores in town, where Kralik is the longest tenured employee there.
The film’s comedic tone is helmed by director Ernst Lubitsch, famous for his tactful wit in storytelling, which was coined as the “Lubitsch Touch.” The film is a relatively light, comedic Christmas movie that fills me with feelings of warmth and comfort. I say relatively because the only narrative unease in the film comes from Mr. Matuschek (played by Frank Morgan, most famous for his performance as the titular “Wizard of Oz”) who takes out his anger on Jimmy Stewart’s character because of his own marital troubles.
It is a story about a slow-burning romance which is built on the words and ideas of two individuals rather than their appearances.
The film, to me, is also a love letter (pun intended) to letters. Imagine the thrill that comes from seeing that little white rectangular envelope in the mailbox and ripping it open to reveal the dreams and desires in the world of intimacy that lives inside another person. I’m of the belief that this quasi-antiquated form of communication is the most intimate of all of them. I’d go as far to say even more so than talking, most of the time.
The structure of a letter allows for introspection to take precedence over conversational fodder– a letter is a sandbox, a psychological Eden where feeling can beget fact and not the other way around.
So, even if this movie doesn’t intrigue you, I kindly ask for you to find a pencil and some paper and write to that person you have always wanted to share ideas with. I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with what flows onto that page. If all goes well, you’ll soon find yourself getting excited at a little white envelope in the mailbox.
“The Shop Around the Corner” can be found on HBOMax and on home video from the Warner Archive Collection.