The Shop Around The Corner Gave James Stewart One Of The Most Frustrating Scenes Of His Career

At this point in the movie, Kralik has been let go from the shop, due to his boss Matuschek (Frank Morgan) suspecting him of having had an affair with Mrs. Matuschek. In reality, Kralik is strictly in love with his pen pal, whom he has never met. Kralik is feeling low, hardly worthy of love, when he and co-worker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) walk past the restaurant where he is set to finally meet his “dear friend.” Who turns out to be Klara.

It’s one of Ernst Lubitsch’s funniest and most magical scenes, with the camera held back in a medium-wide shot for long stretches just to watch the two characters feel each other out. Kralik can hardly believe the woman he’s fallen in love with is the co-worker he so often got into petty arguments with. So he plays around with her, letting her insult him (by calling his intellect “a cigarette lighter that doesn’t work”) but taking offense when she calls him “bowlegged.”

As James Stewart biographer Roy Pickard claimed, this was where the actor would get tripped up. He was meant to say he would roll his trousers up on the street to prove her wrong, and for some reason, the actor remembered, he “couldn’t say it.” Between Lubitsch’s precise direction and Margaret Sullavan’s steely gaze and penchant for outbursts, the pressure might have gotten to Stewart. It would require 48 takes, the most Stewart ever needed to get through a scene. 

Watching the scene now, the frustration fades away. It has the typical Lubitsch ease and confidence, with Stewart and Sullavan both operating at their very best. In fact, it’s one of Stewart’s best movie moments.

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