By Fred Muenz
For as long as Hollywood has been making movies, if a storyline works, and people pay to see it, they will make it over and over again until the public finally tires of it.
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), is a story set in a small gift shop in 1930’s Budapest. Two young people have been exchanging letters sent to post office boxes. While they’ve never met, the letters have become increasingly romantic and they are each falling in love with their mysterious correspondent. The top salesman in the gift shop, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) objects when the shop’s owner, Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan) wants to buy a shipment of musical cigarette boxes. At that same time, a young lady, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) enters the shop looking for a job. Although there are no job openings, she shows what she can do by selling the sample cigarette box to a customer by telling her that it’s a musical candy box. As a reward, Mr. Matuschek hires her to work during the Christmas rush. Naturally, Alfred and Klara don’t get along. Meanwhile the two unknown lovers agree to meet at a restaurant. When Alfred discovers that his mystery correspondent is actually Klara, he tells her he’s there to meet someone else. Klara is heartbroken when her lover doesn’t show up and calls in sick the next day. Alfred feels bad, tries to make it up to her and eventually reveals that he’s actually her mysterious lover. Everyone ends up happy.
IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949) is a Technicolor remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER. The shop is now a music store and the location is now turn-of-the-century Chicago. The James Stewart character, now named Andrew Larkin is played by Van Johnson, while Judy Garland plays the female lead, now named Veronica Fisher. Instead of musical cigarette boxes, the shop’s owner, Mr. Oberkugen (S.Z. Sakall) wants to buy a shipment of table-top harps. Veronica, looking for a job, sells the sample harp to a customer and is hired for the Christmas rush. The rest of the story follows its predecessor closely. Gene Kelly was originally supposed to play the male lead. Later, it was announced that the co-stars were to be Frank Sinatra and Gloria DeHaven. When DeHaven dropped out, she was replaced by June Allison. Sinatra was then replaced by Peter Lawford, and finally both were replaced by Van Johnson and Judy Garland. Buster Keaton, who was working at MGM as a gag writer, was hired for a supporting role in the film primarily for a scene in which he was to take a pratfall and destroy a supposedly expensive violin. In the final scene of the film, the now married couple are seen walking through a park with their little girl, played by Judy Garland’s three year-old daughter, Liza Minnelli.
YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1988), is a Nora and Delia Ephron screenplay based on the same material as THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME. This time the lovers, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) correspond by e-mail. His family owns a chain of huge bookstores, while she owns a small independent children’s bookstore about to be put out of business by his company. They meet when Joe brings a young relative to her store for story time, after which she tells him of her fear of being put out of business by the new Fox Bookstore opening nearby. Joe doesn’t tell her that his name is Fox. They meet again at a publishing party and she learns that he’s part of the Fox family. Her store goes under, her employees move on and she takes a break to decide what she wants to do. The two mysterious e-mail correspondents decide to meet but, as in the other films, he pretends it’s just a chance meeting. He finally realizes his feelings for her and arranges to “run into” her more often. He finally reveals that he’s her online lover, she’s happy to learn it and everyone lives happily ever after.
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