The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
It's amazing how thoroughly The Shop Around the Corner draws you in with its quiet, lovely, even pace. Jimmy Stewart plays Alfred Kralik, the head clerk at a little department store in Budapest owned by fussy, temperamental Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Kralik has been corresponding with a young lady whose ad he came across in the newspaper. They write about ideas and books, and he is falling in love with her, though they have never met.
One day, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) comes into the shop looking for a job. Mr. Matuschek wants to stock a cigarette box that plays "Ochi Chernye" whenever it's opened, but Mr. Kralik thinks it's a stupid idea, because who wants to hear that song every time you reach for a cigarette? Klara sizes up the boss right away, and promptly sells the box to a zaftig lady customer, claiming it's a candy box that reminds you not to have too many pieces by playing the tune. She is hired on the spot and thus begins the mutual animosity between her and Kralik.
Of course, it turns out that this same Miss Novak is the woman with whom Mr. Kralik has been corresponding, which we (and Mr. Kralik) discover with the help of some well-placed carnations on the night the pen pals plan to meet for the first time. The reveal and resolution of that situation is deftly handled by director Ernst Lubitsch, master of quiet storytelling.
The film is romantic, sweet (but not cloying), and beautifully acted.* There is a great smarmy, two-faced toady in the picture, played by Joseph Schildkraut, and no one does cautious kindness like Felix Bressart, Kralik's friend and coworker, Mr. Pirovitch. I understood the impulse to remake it, but am sad that it turned out to be You've Got Mail, a film that somehow manages to play more outdated than the original.
If you have never seen the picture, please do, and if you haven't seen it in a while, watch it again.
* With the possible exception of the very annoying William Tracy