The Shop Around the Corner - Ernst Lubitsch's festive 'touch'

As you'll have noticed, we've been pondering Christmas-themed movies a good deal on Movie Talk recently, but until now we've unaccountably overlooked Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1940 romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner.

Set in the Budapest store of the title during the run-up to Christmas, the film stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering sales assistants who do not realise that each is the other's anonymous pen-pal - a plot that's been recycled as the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and as the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks rom-com You've Got Mail (1998).

Neither remake can hold an advent candle to the original, which shows off the director's delicate visual and verbal wit  -  the fabled 'Lubitsch touch' - to the full. Beneath the comedy and the romance, though, there's an undertow of sadness. The main characters are haunted by the fear of loneliness and the fear of ending up unemployed -  which makes the film an appropriately bittersweet confection for our own straitened times.

The Shop Around the Corner is playing at London's BFI Southbank until 30 December.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.