Lubitsch and Context
Ernst Lubitsch was a Jewish film director who majored in the production of urbane comedies. His career picked off in 1911 as he entered the field of acting but it was not until 1918 that he directed his first movie, Die Augen der Mumie Ma. The Shop Around the Corner is Ernst’s 1940 comedy film, adapted from Parfumerie, a 1937 Hungarian play. The film’s protagonists are two co-workers of a Budapest gift store. Klara and Alfred have an intense hate for each other though they are both sign up for a letter writing relationship that makes them pen pals without them knowing the others identity. Through the letter relationship, they fall in love while real life situation dictates different circumstances. The storeowner’s wife has a secret affair with Vadas and this serves as a subplot in the film. The other working relationships occurring amongst the gift shop employees help to advance the film plot.
In 1937, Ernst directed the movie, Angel that revolved around the Maria, the bored spouse to a British diplomat, Sir Fredrick Barker. On her visit to Paris, Maria meets Anthony where mutual attraction develops. With things getting serious, Maria leaves Paris without informing Anthony only for their paths to cross once more in England. Her husband suspects that she has an affair, follows her and discovers the meetings that she has with Anthony. Realizing the neglect that he has had towards his wife, Fred apologizes and wins back his wife. The following year, Ernst premiered Bluebeard’s eighth wife that revolves around the life of Mademoiselle Nicole who is out to tame her husband, Michael when she finds out that he has been married seven times before. Nicole is the daughter of a French Aristocrat while Michael is a millionaire banker.
A comic battle ensues between the couple with Nicole determined to make certain that number nine does not come into existence and while Michael tries to maintain his well mastered game. Ninotchka was created in 1939 and it involves Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski who are Russian citizens visiting Paris with an intention of selling Duchess Swana’s jewelry impounded in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The three men are talked into abandoning their mission and living in Paris by Count Leon who intends to steal the jewelry back to the Duchess. The Russian government sends Ninotchka to ensure that the jewelry is sold and take the three men back to their country. In the process, they meet with Count Leon and fall in love. From this analysis, The Shop Around the Corner being produced in 1940 fits within the comical relationship context that Ernst had developed with the other movies.
The films are similar as they have the classic plot of romantic films that start with the introduction of the two key players, male and female. As the movie advances, the two fall in love with each other, face some issues that threaten to tear them apart but in the end the conflict is solved and they live happily ever after. Infidelity and secrecy is a common occurrence in all the films with the secrets all being found out at the last minute. Very flat lighting was used to enhance visibility and maintain a cheerful atmosphere in the films. The rhythm used is both fast and slow paced to depict emotion and moods in different scenes. All the films themes were pursued through emotional needs of the main characters.
However, the film The Shop Around the Corner presents the departure of Ernst’s signature style that was based on the thematic concepts. The earlier films all had political, economic and historical plots and centered with the characters being individuals of high social standing (class) who were rich people. In addition, Ernst’s earlier versions focused on individual eccentricity while the 1940 production had a group dynamism approach focusing on the emotional lives and concerns of working middle class individuals. This was actually the first film that incorporated a communal setting. The thematic shift from the earlier versions was in a bid to meet the emerging viewer preferences concerning the changing social patterns and needs.