Been & Going

[Why Watch This] Final Holiday Edition: The Shop Around the Corner

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Merry Christmas! Now shut up and watch this. You’re welcome.

Check out more great classic movie suggestions from Why Watch This

The Shop Around the Corner, 1940, will forever have the unfortunate distinction of being known as “the movie that You Got Mail was based on.” Ok, maybe I shouldn’t use the word “unfortunate,” sorry Eric. I mean, sure, Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, America Online. Those are 3 things I fear that some of my 22 year old co-workers wouldn’t know if I said the words out loud. It’s like when I brought up Tony Danza and they just looked at me with a blank stare. Tony Danza?!? Nothing. How can you live in a world where you don’t know who Tony Danza is?

xmasAnyway, The Shop Around the Corner is my favorite holiday movie. Yes, it is even better than Die Hard, I promise you. The story centers around a gift shop in Budapest. Jimmy Stewart is Kralik, the head clerk of a little group of characters. His grumpy boss, played by Frank Morgan (who played The Wizard), hires Clara, played by Margaret Sullivan. Clarbickeringa and Kralik don’t hit it off and verbally spar. We then find out, independently, that they both have secret pen pals, and-surprise! Their pen pals are each other.

As we get closer to Christmas, the two pen pals want to meet each other. Kralik discovers his pen pal is Clara and chickens out. There are some other plots inside the shop going on, involving the owner, his wife and another clerk. Everything of course goes awry, people are mean to each other, Kralik loses his job and feels unworthy of Clara. Fortunately, everythindiscoveryg is put back together in a very satisfying way.

The Shop Around the Corner was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the German born director famous for what is called “The Lubitsch Touch.” In my mind, I had attributed several movies to Lubitsch but I just discovered, thanks Wikipedia, that I’ve only ever seen one other Lubitsch movie, Trouble in Paradise, an equally charming movie from the 1930s.

So what, you may ask, is “The Lubitsch Touch?” In this movie I think it is the heart, the little touches that are windows into the depths or our characters. It is the vulnerability we see in the grumpy shop owner matushekwhen he confirms that his wife is cheating on him. It is the way the characters come together to help the owner at the end. It is the spirit of community and family, whether the ones you are born with or the ones you make. That feeling of Christmas I’ve always found the most meaningful, taking your stock boy to the best dinner he’s ever had because he is away from his family, or Pirovitch, the Jewish clerk, talking about his family in his small little apartment and how he can’t wait to go home to “Mama.” In this movie, to me, this is the Lubitsch touch. You want to work for Matuschek and Company and sell those stupid cigarette cases, or at the very least shop there. It is everything that You’ve Got Mail is missing, as that movie focuses entirely on the two pen pals, and forgets the worlds they live in and the people who occupy those workers

This morning, before writing this, I decided to use my friend Google to find out what is the technical definition of “The Lubitsch Touch.” Turns out it was a marketing scheme back in the day developed by the studios to promote Mr. Lubitsch who was new to America. That was a little disappointing. However, I think everyone agrees that Mr. Lubitsch does have a touch, and it’s all over the place in the 2 whole movies of his that I have seen. So watch this movie, dammit. Set your DVRs, TCM is showing it on Christmas Eve.

[Why Watch This?] Holiday Edition Part I: The Ref

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

It’s Christmas time! Time to revisit our Why Watch This list of all time great holiday movies! Never seen these- this is your chance to catch up on some classics.

The problem with retro-movie reviews is that occasionally you are faced with some tough questions. For example, is Denis Leary still funny? Or, for that matter, was he ever funny? To answer that question, I offer up The Ref, a nice little holiday movie directed by Ted Demme in 1994.

ref ks and jdMr. Leary plays Gus, a burglar having a bad night. An alarm sounds while he is trying to break into a safe in a wealthy man’s home in a small wealthy town in Connecticut and he is sprayed in the face with cat piss. This places him on the run in a claustrophobic small town with a bungling police force while trying to hook back up with his equally bungling wheel man, Murray. He stumbles across troubled couple Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur played by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey and ends up taking them hostage and forcing them to take him back to their house.

What unfolds is dysfunctional family comedy at its best. Caroline and Lloyd are on the verge of divorce, their son is blackmailing tref gjhe dean of the military boarding school they sent him to. Lloyd’s domineering mother (played by the “isn’t she wonderful” in everything Glynis Johns), brother, equally overbearing sister-in-law (played by the “isn’t she wonderful” in everything Christine Baranski) and their two kids are on their way to dinner. This fact has Gus posing as a marriage counselor and ultimately “The Ref” of the ensuing arguments and family craziness.

Many things are revealed during the ensuing dinner and holiday festivities. Judy Davis, who used to be in Woody Allen movies in the ‘90s, is fantastic as Caroline, what she does to the word “fascinating” three quarters of the way through the movie is worth the ref candlesprice of rental/Netflix (DVD only, not streaming) alone. What’s great about the characters is that everyone is at fault a little and everyone is also the victim a little. All it took was this foul mouth house burglar to tell them like it is, which in some ways forces them to finally admit the truth, stop fighting, and maybe even fix some stuff. It does all of this with some great character comedy, and lets Denis Leary be Denis Leary without going too nuts.

The Ref is on my holiday movie viewing list every year. It has everything you need, a fighting family, a drunken Santa, snow, small picturesque town, duct tape, weird Scandinavian candle head wreathes, delinquent children, and a happy ending.