Adapted from Words Like That S1 Ep. 5: “Christmas Movie Special + End of Year Story Updates," originally released December 19, 2023.
For this list, I wanted to showcase some movies that are maybe a little bit under the radar, at least for some people. Consequently, we’re not going to be talking Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, or It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead, we'll be kicking off with a lesser known Jimmy Stewart Christmas flick:
The Shop Around the Corner
If you’re a film buff like me or of a certain age, you probably have at least heard of this movie. If not, you’re probably familiar with its remake, the 1998 smash hit You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Released in 1940, the original version stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
*SPOILERS* If you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, the premise is the same: Two bitter rivals, working in the same industry, unwittingly fall in love with each others as pseudonymous pen pals. The setting, however, is completely different.
Set in Budapest around 1940, the film casts Stewart and Sullavan as Krylek and Novak, two arch-nemeses clerks working together at Matuschek and Company, a successful leather goods store. They hate each others’ guts, and they’re always bickering. Yet through anonymous letters, they've become the object of each others' passionate desires.
While essentially a romantic comedy, the film also boasts a hefty dose of dramatic weight, particularly with an infidelity and attempted suicide plot line centering around Mr. Matuschek, the owner of the shop played by the Wizard of Oz himself, Frank Morgan. Actor William Tracy also provides a healthy dose of comic relief as smart aleck errand boy, Pepi.
The only criticism I have of the film is Sullavan’s character, who is totally unlikable. This is a problem the makers of You’ve Got Mail corrected, as Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly comes off as nothing less than a charming girl-next-door archetype. In fact, I'd say she's more likable than Tom Hanks’s Joe Fox. In Shop Around the Corner, however, the dynamic is reversed and taken to an extreme: You'll love Stewart’s Krylek; you'll hate Sullavan’s Novak. At the very end of the film, Sullavan is given a couple of lines that try to explain away why she behaved so terribly throughout the film, demonstrating that her real personality is the one that shines through her letters. But I'm not buying it.
That criticism aside, it’s got all the heart and humor needed for a great Christmas film, and it all concludes satisfactorily on Christmas Eve.
It's geared more toward adults, but since it is a 1940s picture, the themes are handled delicately. There’s certainly nothing graphic. However, since the infidelity/suicide subplot might prompt questions from the kids, if you’re a parent, you might want to check it out first before you let the youngsters watch it.
If you love classic Christmas movies, definitely give this one a watch. 9/10.
Cole Powell is an award-winning singer/songwriter and Z-list YouTuber. Armed with degrees in computer technology and liberal arts and sciences, Powell seeks to pontificate his pitiful opinions to the masses through any means the internet allows.