Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

1940: Margaret Sullavan and The Shop Around The Corner

Here is a treat for Christmas - a new release of the 1940 Ernest Lubitsch classic THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER from the London British Film Institute. This much loved film (and a prime early romcom) makes a nice change from the perennial IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It is though, I fear, safe to say that of the 1930s stars I have been commenting on here, that it's star Margaret Sullavan is the least known today to the general public.

As the BFI blurb puts it: "Set in a lovingly evoked pre-war Budapest in the run-up to Christmas, Lubitsch's wondrous THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER displays his fabled 'touch' at its lightest. The film focuses on the various obstacles – including their own pride, prejudice and anxieties about unemployment – blocking the path to happiness for Alfred Kralik (Stewart) and Klara Novak (Sullavan). Sales assistants at the emporium owned by the irascibly paternal Mr Matuschek (Morgan), the pair are so distracted by professional rivalry and dreams of a better life that they're yet to realise they’ve started courting one another in an anonymous correspondence by mail.

Superb performances, lustrous camerawork and Samson Raphaelson's deft script – which miraculously mines comedy from an otherwise serious, often deeply moving account of loneliness, insecurity and the fear of seeming 'ordinary' – contribute to Hollywood’s most exquisitely romantic depiction of an old Europe about to vanish forever. Perfect seasonal fare."
I couldn't put it better myself!

Sullavan [1909-1960] did not make that many films, 22 in all, being primarily a Broadway actress. Her story is told in her daughter Brooke Hayward's book HAYWIRE (which was filmed with Lee Remick as Sullavan]. Though from a wealthy background her personal life was dogged with increasing deafness and mental problems, causing her accidental overdose in 1960 (two years before Monroe's similar ending). She had already worked with James Stewart in THE SHOPWORN ANGEL in 1938, the year she also starred in THREE COMRADES for Frank Borzage which is "one of the most memorable films of the 1930s" (Daryl Chin's comment om IMDb), from the Remarque story and scripted by F Scott Fitzgerald which with Borzage's romanticism makes for a very moving classic.

1940 was probably her peak year (like it also was for James Stewart - not only the 2 with Sullavan but also with Hepburn and Grant in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, for which he won the Academy Award) as she and Stewart were also teamed in the terrific Frank Borzage film THE MORTAL STORM about the rise of Nazis in Germany, with her and Stewart escaping over the border on skis at the thrilling climax. I had never seen Sullavan before but saw this film on afternoon television when I was in my twenties and it was just one of those films that, even on television, makes a tremendous impresson on one so one never forgets it. Nice to have it on disk now [along with Borzage's equally great MAN'S CASTLE from '34 with Tracy and Loretta Young]. One could say the same about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER - later romcoms like YOU'VE GOT MAIL shamelessly plagarised it.

Sullavan had several tempestuous relationships - a two month marriage to Henry Fonda, followed by marriages to director William Wyler and agent Leland Heyward, plus a fourth marriage. She and James Stewart were also close but politically poles apart.....

Margaret Sullavan's last film was NO SAD SONGS FOR ME in 1950, which it was a pleasure to catch up with a while ago (thanks to a friend in New York). Here she plays an ordinary suburban wife who finds out she has terminal cancer and it is about how she comes to terms with it and ensures her husband (Wendall Corey - dull as ever) and daughter (young Natalie Wood) will be looked after, after she has gone, by new girl Viveca Lindfors. It is a superior weepie.

It is though good to see THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER back in circulation and Sullavan's reputation can only grow. It was also remade by MGM in '47 as IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME as a vehicle for Judy Garland.


  1. Nice post Michael. I am Rajan, a big fan of Old Hollywood movies. I found your blog today in the morning and the very first piece impressed me. Your blog will now be on my reading list :-)

  2. Many thanks. Yours look very interesting too, I shall have to investigate ....


  3. Actually, Sullavan only made 16 films; her other credits on IMDB are all of TV dramas done in the 1950s. Interesting to note: Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated with her, and agreed to the Selznick contract on the condition that he might work with Sullavan. She was his first choice for the lead in REBECCA, but Selznick overruled Hitchcock and cast Joan Fontaine instead. Sullavan was also cast as Blanche DuBois in the original Broadway production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, but she and Tennessee Williams immediately got into conflict and she withdrew rather than continue fighting. Perhaps either role would have secured her the continued renown which eluded her.