The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

cc994-the_shop_around_the_corner_-_1940-_posterStarring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan with direction by Ernst Lubitsch, the film follows the events in a little shop in Budapest Hungary. Alfred Kralik (Stewart) is the most respected employee in the shop and when Ms. Novak (Sullivan) comes in he advises her no jobs are open. However, she does land one and thus begins their rocky relationship. They are constantly at each others throats arguing. Both of them want to end the conflict on a good note as they go their separate ways to marry people that they were corresponding with by letter. When Stewart is to finally meet his unknown lover, he is shocked to look in and see Ms. Novak. Through a series of events she finally figures out he was the writer of all her letters and the two former enemies fall in love. This unorthodox romance has good characters and comedic moments that make it enjoyable to watch.

4.5/5 Stars

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard with director Ernst Lubitsch, the film follows a group of actors in Poland during the outbreak of World War II. All too soon their act seems to be in jeopardy and they must put on the most important performance of their lives. Benny and Lombard are a husband and wife acting duo, who with the help of their troupe must stop a spy from giving damaging information to the Nazis. With the help of their acting and disguises, they are able to pull off the monumental task. This satire is so extraordinary because it made fun of the Nazis and found humor in that subject at the same time their villainy was occurring. Benny certainly seems out of place in Poland and he is not much when it comes to performing Hamlet, but I suppose that’s part of his charm. He is so vain and suspicious of his wife and yet he ends up a hero.

When I first saw this film I expected major laughs and it really does not have that, at least not in the way that Chaplin lampooned Hitler in the Great Dictator. Here Lubitsch weaves a somewhat darker story and yet it causes us to smile because of this Polish acting troupe that embodies the words of Shakespeare that “All the world’s a stage.” He meant it to be metaphorical but they take it to heart and their acting turns into reality. The bit player Greenberg goes as far as reciting the Jewish part of Shylock from the Merchant of Venice and it ultimately saves their lives. As such the film often switches back in forth from stage to actuality and pretty soon it is hard to separate them. The the plight of these people was close to Lubitsch, but he also was adept at the romantic comedy. Thus, despite the constant bickering and the trials faced by Joseph and Maria Tura, we cannot help but laugh at their love story. To Be or Not to Be is not your everyday comedy, but instead it occupies its own unique niche. Hopefully no one walks out on it!

4/5 Stars

Ninotchka (1939)

e937e-film_ninotchkaStarring a cast including Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas with director Ernst Lubitsch, the film opens in Paris with three quirky Soviet Russians. They are sent to sell some jewels and at the same time to marvel at the capitalist society. Their curt, robotic, and serious comrade arrives to help them. She meets a Parisian playboy and seriously hopes to learn about his society.  However, after he finally makes her laugh the two of them become romantically involved. A jealous duchess manipulates the situation and Ninotchka is back in Moscow. She is reunited with her friends there but still is somber because she is no longer with her love. That changes quickly enough though. Lubitsch gives us another witty comedy that plays off the conflict between ideologies and cultures. Garbo, Douglas, and the three Russians are all likable characters that help make this film fairly good.

 

4/5 Stars

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

73432-troubleinparadise1932Starring Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall, and Miriam Hopkins with director Ernst Lubitsch, this film is a funny pre-code era romantic comedy. A man and a woman crook meet each other in Venice and after wreaking some havoc they fall in love and get married. The two of them move to Paris in order to pull a big heist on the elegant Collete perfume tycoon. Things get complicated when the male crook begins to fall in love with her. Furthermore, her two other suitors get jealous and eventually realize where they have seen him before! Then his wife learns what is going on and she is jealous. He sadly breaks off his relationship with the lady he meant to rob. But once a pick pocket always a pick pocket and he and his wife make up. For being an early 1930s film, I particularly enjoyed this one. Lubitsch did a fine job directing and there is a lot of wit.

4.5/5 Stars