El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Friday, December 26, 2003


Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay by Samson Raphaelson
Based on the play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo
Starring James Stewart as Alfred Kralik, Margaret Sullivan as Klara Novak, Frank Morgan as Hugo Matuschek

I just caught this film on Turner Classic Movies; a great resource for film buffs. I've been curious to see this picture since I heard it was the basis of Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail. Even though that movie was weak, I was still interested. Also, I've read some things about Billy Wilder and he always raves on about director Ernst Lubitsch.

This charming romantic comedy takes place in Matuschek's department store in Budapest. For some reason they don't Americanize the story in the film, which they should. Instead the characters keep the Hungarian names and all the signs are assumedly in Hungarian; this is odd because the actors all sound American except for one actor who puts on an Eastern European accent. It is a little distracting at times, but not enough to ruin your enjoyment of the film.

Most of the film takes place in the department store where Alfred runs things, but the film has enough sets that it doesn't feel like you're watching a play. Alfred has been with Matuschek's for years, has a great sense for what people will buy and he even allows Matuschek to think that all his good ideas are really Mr. Matuschek's. Alfred is in a great mood because he started corresponding with a woman through the personal ads. She is intelligent and loves the arts.

One day Klara comes looking for a job. Alfred tries to tell her that they have no openings. She pleads with Alfred and then she asks Mr. Matuschek, who also denies her as well. When a customer asks for help, Klara leaps at the change and shows her salesmanship by selling a music box that Alfred told Mr. Matuschek no one would buy, so he keeps Klara on. Mr. Matuschek had liked the music box.

Klara and Alfred are constantly not getting along. A clue for fans of this genre. They don't appear to have the same tastes and they insult each other every chance they get.

Mr. Matuschek asks everyone to stay late to prepare the window for Christmas. Both Alfred and Klara want to get off because they each have an appointment. Alfred with his secret pen pal. Klara is also meeting a date that she has also met through the personal ads. Both at 8:30pm. A coincidence? When they both ask to get off early, Mr. Matuschek yells at them.

Mr. Matuschek has been treating Alfred rudely for the past few days. After all the years of service, Alfred thinks he's entitled to better treatment and even though the economy is bad, he quits. Although he's depressed about losing his job, Alfred goes to meet his mystery woman at the cafe and it turns out to be...(you guessed it.) Klara. He goes in and pretends to be meeting a friend. She tries to get rid of him, but he playfully pesters her, never revealing he is her date.

We find out that Mr. Matuschek treated Alfred so badly because he believes that Alfred is having an affair with his wife. A private detective shows Mr. Matuschek that another employee and not Alfred is involved with Mrs. Matuschek. Mr. Matuschek is so overwhelmed by the proof of the affair and his actions towards Alfred that he has a nervous breakdown and almost commits suicide.

Alfred comes back to run the store in Mr. Matuschek's absence while he rests in the hospital. Klara is home ill because she believes her mystery man never showed up. Upon hearing this, Alfred writes her a letter as the mystery man explaining why he didn't make their appointment. She recovers upon receiving his letter.

I'm not going to tell you if they get together in the end, but if anyone wants to bet that they don't, please contact me. I will offer very healthy odds. Better than any casino.

Jimmy Stewart was his wonderful self and Margaret Sullivan does a good job playing off him. It was mind blowing seeing Frank Morgan as someone else aside from the Wizard of Oz. It took a little while to accept him as a different character, especially with his voice. The story was well written and the behavior of the characters makes sense when their motivations are explained. It's not forced just to serve the plot like bad romantic comedies. This is the third movie I've seen by Lubitsch (also Ninotchka and To Be or Not To Be). He has made some good comedies, but nothing so great that I would ever go out of my way to watch any of his films a second time, but at least I haven't hated any of them. Do you know what I mean, Michael Bay?!


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