The central love story between James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan is virtually a love quadrangle played out by just two people. Stewart is the top employee at the shop; Sullavan is a sales girl hired over his objections. What we soon realize, and they don't, is that they're romantic pen-pals -- they've been courting each other anonymously, by mail. In their love letters, Stewart and Sullavan are passionately, whimsically high-minded; in their workaday lives they banter evasively, to deny the flirtatious tugs they feel toward each other. They must learn to believe in their own best self-images, to transfer their chivalric dreams to the shop. The movie builds to their amorous breakthrough in six sequences that rise and fall with the surprising weight of mini-lifetimes. Stewart and Sullavan -- and Lubitsch and Raphaelson -- never did better work. It's beautifully rhythmed to the beating human heart.
-- Michael Sragow
The Shop Around the Corner opens Saturday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 p.m. (with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4 p.m.) at the Stanford Theater, 221 University (at Emerson), Palo Alto. Admission is $6; call (650) 324-3700.