Friday, 25 September 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1940: James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner

James Stewart did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alfred Kralik in The Shop Around the Corner.

The Shop Around the Corner is an enjoyable romantic comedy about the various things going on in the titular shop.

James Stewart's Oscar win must be noted as a bit of a head scratcher, as his win for The Philadelphia Story is perhaps most notable because it gave Stewart his only competitive Oscar. It always feels a bit of a shame as for me personally it is his only Oscar nominated performance that I don't either really quite like or flat out love. Insult is added to injury is when one realizes that it was not even Stewart's best work from 1940. Stewart here once again plays a romantic lead, although this time this time it more closely focuses on his character unlike The Philadelphia Story where one could possibly argue that both he and Cary Grant were supporting Katherine Hepburn the whole time. Stewart's given a far more substantial role here as a salesman at a leather goods shop. Stewart naturally makes Alfred extremely likable with his easy going charm that is not more fitting for the director, Ernst Lubitsch's fairly, although not quite entirely, breezy tone that he establishes for the lighthearted story. Stewart could not feel more effortless in the role and is an extremely easy lead to follow through this romantic comedy.

Actually one of the things I did not care for in his performance in The Philadelphia Story was that I felt Stewart actually made his character's disgust and boredom at his task of covering socialites a little too realistic to the point that he was a bit too off putting for it to be fun. Stewart actually directly fixes that mistake with this performance as he must conveying a similair sentiment in his earliest scenes with his eventual love interest, Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan. The early set up is that she's the new employee at the shop whose particular method of selling items quickly gets on Alfred's nerves. Stewart now this time strikes exactly the right tone in portraying this. He certainly gets across just how much Klara gets under his skin in his fairly intense reactions, but Stewart accentuates them in the right fashion in which they become appropriately comic without being too ridiculous. Stewart while driving the humor from it properly he also makes the initial conflict between the two characters actually feel wholly honest rather than simply just the superfluous and rather thin barrier to be broken down throughout the story. 

What's worth nothing on Stewart's work though is that he never treats any element of the film just a means to get to the eventual happy end of the film. Stewart does not allow any part of it just to be taken for granted, and succeeds in realizing any aspect of Alfred's life not simply making him feel stuck in the romantic comedy structure. One of the subplots is dealing with the high strung nature of his boss Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan) which causes some minor problems earl yon but these problems grow as Matuschek becomes concerned about more pivotal things in his life. This inadvertently effects Alfred early on though eventually it becomes directly problematic for him. Stewart is very good in portraying Alfred's rightful frustrations at the behavior, and is quite moving when portraying the severe disappointment when it appears that Mr. Matuschek's paranoia has gotten the best of him causing him to fire Alfred. Stewart, as per usual, makes this feel so honest that he makes it incredibly easy to sympathize with Alfred's plight during these scenes. Things switch around soon enough though when, through very problematic circumstances, Mr. Matuschek comes back to his senses.

Stewart is great in the scene where Alfred takes on the actual source of Mr. Matuschek's misery, bring that classic Stewart passion into Alfred's disgust which makes the moment rather powerful. The film after all is a romantic comedy though so an essential element of it is the relationship. In this case they are quite dismissive of one another, even though they unknowingly write love letters to one another. What works so well is that Stewart and Sullavan do not depict is that immediate switch from hatred to love. Simply in their scenes together, where they are not necessarily interacting all that much, Stewart and Sullavan slowly depict just a gradual distinguishing of hostilities. There are occasional fall backs to some more aggressive behavior but both actors make this feel particularly natural. The two of them earn the eventual heartwarming sweetness that comes from the ending, since neither of them make it easy by having either the love or the fights seem forced in the least. It's lovely work from the both them. For Stewart this is a great example of just what made him so appealing as a leading man, and if he had to win leading actor for 1940 it should have been for this performance. 


Luke Higham said...

Damn, Sorry Calvin. :(

Louis: Your Female Lead/Supporting Top 5s with ratings and other 4+ Performances.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: For 1940.

Calvin Law said...


Oh well, thoughts and ratings for the rest of the cast? I LOVE THIS FILM SO MUCH

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Are you gonna see Legend anytime soon.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Soon, very soon hopefully

Anonymous said...

Louis: So, John Huston wanted to film Moby Dick with his father as Ahab, but unfortunately he died in 1950 before even plans were made. Other considerations were Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Fredric March and Marlon Brando. Orson Welles, at some point, was also considered. What do you think of these choices? I think Flynn and Lancaster would be huge miscastings.

Luke Higham said...

In terms of fives, I could see why World War II had such an effect on these years.

Anonymous said...

*have been

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Louis: Gary Cooper was also considered.

Luke Higham said...

*I Can See Why

Luke Higham said...

Has anyone heard the Spectre theme song yet.

Michael Patison said...

Yes. Robert hates it (or at least really doesn't like it). After thinking the first half of it was excellent, I now think it's very good, though not great. Certainly not the trainwreck I was expecting however.

Michael Patison said...

As for Stewart, disappointed he didn't get a 5 for this as I think he should. That being said, I still think he'll take the year (for the alternates). No matter his rating, though, nobody was ever going to take the year from Maxim.

Luke Higham said...

Michael: I don't like it that much either, and I really like Sam Smith. Of the Craig era, Chris Cornell's You Know My Name is my favourite theme song.

Luke Higham said...

Michael: I knew Olivier was gonna win beforehand, though I'm mildly disappointed by the lack of fives in this lineup.

Luke Higham said...

I've seen the first 40 minutes of Me, Earl And The Dying Girl and it's OK so far, though slightly boring if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Did you think Stewart was going to get a 5?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I wasn't fully expecting it, as it wasn't a dramatic performance from Stewart, but Calvin had a great deal of hope in him, so I was hoping for it too.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I actually predicted that Stewart wasn't getting a 5.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Though, he did infuse his Aw Shucks routine in some of his dramatic performances like MSGTW and IAWL.

Anonymous said...

Luke: But that's what made those performances so great, the Aw Shucks routine.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: That's fine by me. :) We all just have to move on to the next lineup.

Agreed on the Aw Shucks Routine, I always found it endearing.

Luke Higham said...

I'm off to see Everest. :)

Calvin Law said...

Aw shucks Louis Aw shucks.

Michael Patison said...

Luke: The more I think about it the more I'm convinced I like it (or most of it, at least), but also the more I lose my conviction that it's anything more than halfway decent. I'm not a Sam Smith fan, so the fact that the parts I really didn't like (his falsetto, starting about 2/3 of the way through when I felt it had become overdone) really are weighing down the rest of it, which I really liked because he has an excellent voice and because I quite liked how he chose to keep the melancholic, yet sexy tone in the instrumental underpinnings.

You Know My Name is just fine for me. I love Skyfall and think it's the best Bond theme since Nobody Does It Better (which should never, ever, have been said about Roger Moore)

Michael McCarthy said...

i thought even the beginning of M&E&DG was insufferable. It was just a bunch of people screaming at each other and saying quirky things like in the worst kind of David O. Russell style, intermingled with a bunch of pointless "effects" editing and claymation that seems like a tasteless knockoff of Wes Anderson.

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Michael McCarthy: I also heard it was visually ugly. Care to comment?

Michael McCarthy said...

I wouldn't say ugly as much as odd. The lighting had that weird kind of...drunk quality that you see in David O. Russell films. But at least for Russell's films it makes sense because of the hectic energy they have, here it just didn't serve a purpose (like all the other cinematic techniques in the first half).

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Higham said...

Michael Patison: Skyfall's great too, but for some unknown reason, it doesn't connect with me as much as it did 3 years ago.

Michael McCarthy: I found the renaming of classic/foreign films quite odd and was not at all entertained by its quirkiness, though I'll be giving my ratings and thoughts either tonight or tomorrow.

Saw Everest. It's a decent enough survival film, that had too much exposition for my liking.

Clarke - 3/3.5
Brolin - 3
Gyllenhaal - 3
Hawkes - 3.5
Watson - 3.5 (Best of the cast)
Knightley - 3
Worthington - 2.5

Louis Morgan said...



Joan Fontaine - Rebecca
Rosalind Russell - His Girl Friday
Irene Dunne - My Favorite Wife - 4.5
Margaret Sullavan - The Shop Around the Corner - 4
Katherine Hepburn - The Philadelphia Story

Supporting Actress:

Jane Darwell - Grapes of Wraith
Judith Anderson - Rebecca
Paulette Goddard - The Great Dictator - 4.5
Ann Sothern - Brother Orchid
Magaret Lockwood - The Stars Look Down - 4


Ruth Gordon - Abe Lincoln in Illinois - 4
Gale Sondergaard - The Letter - 4
Edna May Oliver - Pride and Prejudice


Don't aw shucks me.

I'll save Morgan for the moment.

Sullavan - (I'd say she's just ever so slightly overshadowed by Stewart, but she quite good herself in making her both slightly abrasive while still being quite endearing, which is a rather difficult trick to pull off. And again I really like her chemistry with Stewart)

Schildkraut - 3.5(Why does he always seem to play such despicable characters when he's sans mustache. Schildkraut enjoyably pompous and sleazy helping adding to the catharsis of the confrontation scene)


It's such a shame about his father because I think he would have been great in the role.

Errol Flynn - (I've never seen him bring the dramatic depth necessary for the role)

Burt Lancaster - (I think it could have gone either way as he was pretty good at playing past his actual age at the very least, the rest could almost be a coin flip for him)

John Wayne - (He has the physical presence, but I don't think he would have done well with the very stylized lines he would need to deliver)

Fredric March - (He did not have the physical presence for Ahab)

Marlon Brando - (Far too young at the time)

Orson Welles - (He likely would have mastered the stylized lines, he had the physical presence, he should have played the part.)

Other choice I think would have worked.

James Mason - (There's a few shades of Ahab in his Nemo)
Boris Karloff
Victor McLaglen
Robert Mitchum
Burl Ives
Anthony Quinn
Lee J. Cobb