What is your first experience with adaptations of Parfumerie by Miklós László?
Jon: My first experience with this work was the 1998 version You’ve Got Mail. It was after the movie that I learned it was a re maker of another film so I took some time to find it and watch it, I really enjoyed the original 1940 version “Shop Around the Corner” much more than the 1998 version. It was during our research for this conversation that I found out about “In the Good Old Summer Time”, which was made in 1949 staring Judy Garland. The Garland version has to me my least favorite out of the three. It felt like the story was only rewritten to give Judy Garland an excuse to sing. After re watching all three I have to say that the 1998 version is a better rendition of the story because it focuses more on the written communication between the two characters. The original showed us more of the after effect of the letters that made them fall in love with each other. Listing to the characters gave us more of an opportunity to fall in love with them.
Gabby: I agree very much with your opinions on the Garland remake. I had watched it once years and years ago. And remember it being my least favourite in the Garland box set. When we talked about having this discussion, for some reason I remembered it as a different movie. Because a movie with Judy Garland and Buster Keaton surely is worth your time right?! What I found out is I was right when I was a young teenager, this movie is a dud. But I am glad that we can involve it in some way as I think it shows something that the other two movies got right, which was the relationship with the two protagonists. I love the way you put it with the difference between showing the communication and the reaction to it. We really get a sense of who these people are in both Shop and Mail.
In the good old summer time starts with Andrew’s voice over, this is horrible. But I have no idea who this person is. He is no character at all. In The Shop around the Corner, I think Jimmy Stewart really makes this person such a vulnerable and lovable businessman. He could be seen as cold, but we know that really he has such a big heart. He really cares for that family of his in that shop.
What do you think of that cast of characters in The Shop around the corner?
Jon: The casting is superbly done. Jimmy Stewart does a great job as the second in command of the shop but in reality he runs the shop. You are spot on about him coming off as cold, but he does truly care about the shop employees. Margaret Sullavan seems to come off as shrewish though as a lot of the animosity between the two seems to be started by her. Frank Morgan does a doddering old owner very well to wonderful comedic effect. I really like his performance because the seriousness of the sub plot of him and his wife is a stark contrast with the rest of his performance. William Tracy as the ambitions delivery boy Pepi is outstanding. He is driven and knows how to work with the system to get what he wants. I love how he takes on the role of hiring his replacement. The story is way before its time and the themes presented are timeless, I think it holds up well to time. You can still connect with the characters even in 2014. That could be because of the strong performances or the great script. I think a bit of both.
Gabby: I agree about Frank Morgan. It is almost heartbreaking to see him asking what the others are doing over Christmas. It comes as such a relief when the newest member of the team is also alone so they can enjoy Christmas together.
Lubitsch is a master director and most of his movies are perfection. One thing I always tend to love is how wonderfully well rounded his female characters are. But as you say, there are many times when Klara seems cruel and shrewish. I think that bed scene between her and Stewart does such a good job of finally warming her up. Margaret Sullivan really can win you over quickly there. Even if the reason she treated the way she did is, to me, a male approximation about how women think. It doesn’t ring true at all. But the film is so heartfelt you can forgive things like that in an instance.
What themes do you think particularly resonate today?
Jon: You bring up a great point the male view of what she is thinking; do you think the cast had any input to how the characters should have reacted?
Gabby: Lubitsch and Sullivan both had very charming personalities. But unfortunately she had personal problems in the 50s with Depression. I think my impression is they had respect towards the script so stuck to it. She much preferred the stage. Maybe she felt more liberty to make the character her own there; whereas if you had cast someone like Rosalind Russell you would have a very different movie. I think I would love to see that movie. Not that I don’t adore the way it is, but I think that would have been better for a remake. To change the characters more rather than do the same thing, same lines but with added songs, which is why You’ve Got Mail works. It has a different view on these characters, they are different people. It also has an advantage of the screenplay being written by the wonderful Nora Ephron and her sister Delia. I’m so glad we get to have both films, written by different perspectives. That is a much more interesting way to go about a remake.
Jon: When you do a remake of a movie there are some things you need to stick to. It’s more of a frame work. If you can tell that same story from a different point of view or in a new way absolutely do a remake. This is why I don’t care for In the Good Old Summer Time. Aside from the change in the sub plot with the store owner and the addition of a setting that was conducive to the additions of songs, it tells us nothing new. It does the same jokes in the same fashion almost beat for beat. I think it was a throw away role for Buster Keaton, who was a comedic genius and he was only in a few sight gags. He needed to be used more.
Gabby: What are some of the themes that are still resonant today and which ones do you think You’ve Got mail got right where In the good old Summertime failed?
Jon: Summertime didn’t fail per se they just didn’t bring anything new to the table. I think one of the biggest themes was the ability to get an emotionally connection without ever having to have met. Both Shop and Mail got that right.
Stewart had to be faced with and deal with the realization that the person he loved and the person he was so aggravated with at work were the same person. But Hanks had a different emotional connection with that scene. He was trying to reconcile that the person he loved was also the person who he ruined. I see that as a different internal struggle Hank’s version comes from a twinge of Guilt. A story that tells about how people can connect on a personal level without ever meeting face to face is very true today. In Shop it was a Pen Pal connection through a personal ad. If you take that to the next step it was a web connection in what was then a chat room. My brother met his wife thorough a chat room. That spirit of making a deeper connection without the superficial rings true. However there were some superficial motivations in the characters. In Shop she was disappointed when Jimmy Stewart was going on and falsely describing her pen pal. She was genuinely crest fallen. Even if that same scene wasn’t played out in Mail, their discussion about it before Hanks reveals himself has a touch of how the superficial elements still play on our heart. I would say they both have superior ideals about relationships but based in the dirty reality of how humans work.
Gabby: I agree that the connection they feel through letters or email is meaningful in today’s society. The slight preoccupation with looks they have is quite true as well of today’s society. I think that their hope that he is still charming or funny or interesting to be with shows that character is a true romantic. She is hopeful their souls met and if he isn’t stereotypically good looking that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is he isn’t the person that she thought he was. One thing that struck me about In the good old Summertime is how traditional and conservative it is. Considering, as you say, it is almost beat for beat the same movie as Shop around the Corner sometimes, it comes off much more of an indoctrination to get married and have babies. That tiny bit added to the end with them getting married and then having a daughter made me so uncomfortable. It felt like they were shoving their ‘family values’ down my throat. Whereas I feel the connection that the two characters in Shop and Mail makes it feel wonderful when they do actually get together.
Jon: I completely forgot about that part of the end of Summertime. Good point. The provincial nature of that version does give the viewer something that is not needed. If they get together and stay in love forever is irrelevant it’s the fact that they had a connection that matters. Do you think they added it just to show off Liza Minnelli? If they did, what a dramatic change to the story. It really changes the overall tone of the story dramatically. What did you think about the one scene that was in all three, the “because she is (insert character name here)”? Also, in Mail, what did you think about the subtle nod to Summertime to have the person on the street walking very briskly with a violin case? Or was I just working too hard there?
Gabby: Probably! I really love many of Judy Garland’s movies so I was surprised at the distaste in my mouth by the film finished. I think there are definite nods to Summertime and Shop in Mail, which I enjoy. I think where that scene is perfect is in Shop. It is one of my favourite moments in that movie. I also love the feet walking down the steps until the phrase “I want your honest opinion” and the feet stop and walk back up the steps, which was not seen in Mail but it wasn’t needed. One of my favourite comic moments in Mail is when Kathleen figures out who Joe really is at that party. ‘That caviar is a garnish!’ Ephron was at her best in these kind of moments.
Jon: Absolutely! The walking up the steps is another one of my favourite parts as it is incredibly funny in Shop.
Gabby: What do you think about the darker elements of the stories? I think there is darkness in the characters and a history that makes them more rounded.
Jon: The subplot of Shop is of infidelity and the attempted suicide because of it. I was shocked at the way that they were very up front with that. They almost needed to offset the light and fun atmosphere of the main plot. It’s needed as a way to ground the characters and to make their shop workers unite under the cause of making sure they have a good holiday season of sales for the owner. There is also the desperate nature of Sullivan’s need to find love. The things Stewart told her about being an old maid were very hurtful because they struck a nerve in her. That is the real point here; the characters feel more emotions then are needed for the comedy. They have depth. That is why it feels real and it still resonates today. Humans are very complex emotional beings and that is why we connect with the characters, because they are too.
Gabby: Very well put, I agree with all of that. I think this is true as well in You’ve got Mail. What I like about it is the complex nature of how we feel about big chains. They do bring things that we like and do have character, such as giving us our individual taste in coffee drinks. However there is an essential core of love of the items that Kathleen has that is not there for Fox Books. Her relationship with her mother makes the loss of the store even more devastating.
Both films do make a good Christmas movie, which bits of the film do you think make appropriate for this time of year?
Jon: Well in Shop it’s that everyone has someone to share the holiday with. That sense of connection during this time of year. In Mail it has to be the absolute domination of the megamart cathedral that worships capitalism as it grinds it’s heal into the fallen small business owner. Too dark?
Well Mail does its share of being nostalgic for how things used to be when we were growing up and that is what a lot of people do during this season. I think this time of year we are more reflective on what has happened in the past year.
“It’s not personal its business” is how Fox deals with the issue, but it may be very personal to who you are saying that about. I love that line because it shows that what people say to themselves to lessen the impact of their actions that still has an impact on others. It helps me remember to keep others’ feelings in mind when I make choices. I guess it’s a leadership lesson that many business owners could learn from.
Gabby: Agreed. I love the way the film clearly shows business is personal, that is one of the reasons why I love that movie. It shows how personal comments can be and also the impact it has on us. It’s so rare to show that guilt in saying something you always wished you can say… it’s so human.
I just hope that many people find that moment of nostalgia and happiness at spending time with those around them that both of those films romanticize so beautifully.