The Shop Around the Corner has a lot going on in a limited space. It’s not particularly long–under 100 minutes–and it mostly takes place in (or outside) the titular shop. And, while the present action is about six and a half months (there’s a big jump), the back story defines a lot of the characters and backstory.
It also requires the viewer pay a lot of attention to the details in dialogue. Samson Raphaelson’s script–adapted from a play, which accounts for the big jump in time (director Lubitsch beautifully turns act breaks and scene breaks into gentle resets for the viewer with fade outs)–always has a lot of talking and many of the details become important. It’s all so well-written and so well-performed, you get the important details because you don’t want to miss even disposable dialogue.
The film has two leads–James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. They start out equal, but Stewart gets more to do in the second half as his professional story arc (involving their boss, Frank Morgan) becomes very important. The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy, but it’s also a film with a lot of seriousness. Not even the romantic stuff is always happy–or always hopeful. Lubitsch goes out of his way to create a world where dramatic turns can be negative (and inevitable).
The supporting performances are outstanding; Morgan, Felix Bressart and William Tracy are standouts.
Shop is simultaneously quietly and noisily brilliant. It’s wonderful.