Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Shop Around the Corner


In 1937 a Hungarian named Miklós László wrote a slight little comic play called Parfumerie. It was about a man and a woman who work in the same store and really don’t like each other. At the same time, each has a pen pal, having hooked up through a personal ad in the newspaper. These postal would-be lovers have agreed not to write about what they do, what they look like, or even to mention their names. They would instead write of philosophy, and love, and … well, I really can’t imagine. They see it as more romantic that way, I guess, and they are wild about each other. (I would also guess that their letters would be dreadful to read.) Naturally, it turns out the pen pals are also the store clerks.

The great Ernst Lubitsch found the play and turned it into this delightful little gem. He even retained the Budapest setting, which I found slightly unusual. I don’t object; far from it, I think it was wise, it’s just that it would have been so easy to move it to Chicago or Los Angeles and not risk alienating American audiences who are always a little suspicious of Europeans. The dialogue retains an Old World formality that I found appealing. The stars are Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, with excellent support from Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz!) and Felix Bressart.

The story is, in fact, so appealing that it’s been made into a radio play, a Broadway musical (She Loves Me) and remade twice on film: In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.