Updating a 1940’s Movie for the Internet Age

Meg Ryan faces a tough decision. Image: Welcome to Ladyville

One of the movies we watch Every. Single. Year. is You’ve Got Mail (1998), directed by Nora Ephron, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

You’ve Got Mail has funny lines, amusing characters and books crammed into every corner. We’ve seen it so often, we can quote entire scenes by heart.

The film is about a children’s bookstore proprietor (Ryan) who battles a book superstore threatening to muscle her out of business. Ryan tries to frame her opposition as a societal issue, i.e. the Individual vs. the Corporation, and she takes her fight to the media.

It’s a tough campaign. As you know, big box bookstores are exciting, with their custom-made lattes, large discount sections, and acres of shelves. It’s like Disneyland!

Hanks is one of the owners of the large chain bookstore; a wealthy man with a secret. Unbeknownst to his girlfriend, he’s corresponding with an anonymous woman in an online chat room. Get this: Unbeknownst to him, the woman he’s been chatting with is Ryan.

At first, Businessman Hanks bears no animosity towards Businesswoman Ryan and her crusade. She’s merely a bump to be squashed in his quest to Dominate the Book Industry.

As for Ryan, the fight to keep her store open is exhausting. She grows to loathe Hanks who, in turn, resents her for tarnishing his company’s image.

Their animosity has the same intensity as the original* film, The Shop Around the Corner (1940), starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. Image: The Hollywood Canteen

The 1940 film was was based on the popular 1936 play, Parfumerie, by Hungarian playwright Nikolaus (Miklos) Laszlo. The film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, takes place in a Budapest boutique.

Sullavan and Stewart play co-workers who dislike each other. However, they are – you guessed it! – conducting an anonymous romantic correspondence via mail. Like Ryan and Hanks, they do not divulge personal details in their writings.

This covert letter-writing operation begins when Sullavan places an ad in the newspaper: “Modern Girl wishes to correspond on cultural subjects anonymously with intelligent, sympathetic young man.”

This correspondence leads to romance, and Lubtisch gives us a time of it, with the pair arguing during the day in the store, then corresponding after hours.

It’s a charming film, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as You’ve Got Mail. But all the special qualities of the original film have been transplanted in this clever remake; even Ryan’s shop is named “The Shop Around the Corner”.

The 1998 version updates the story with “modern” (1998) technology and uses very similar scenes. As an example, let’s compare the café scenes where Sullavan and Ryan wait to meet their Secret Admirer:

Image: Kalafudra’s Stuff
Image: Parallax View

Or the scene where they receive an unlikely visitor:

Image: Ravepad
Image: Pinterest

Now, you may think both these movies have an unlikely premise, and that may be. But with the right director and screenwriter, we can easily suspend disbelief.

Casting the female lead is equally important. You need an actress with wit and vulnerability, someone who’s tough enough to stand against a male character who sometimes skews towards self-importance.

Margaret Sullavan (left) and Meg Ryan (right).

Although Sullavan’s character isn’t written to dominate the 1940 film, she has the talent to make her role appear much larger than it is.

As for the 1998 version, the female lead must carry the story. Ryan immediately makes us sympathize with her character and the difficulties she’s facing: a possible closure of her store, a distracted boyfriend, and an existential crisis. Yet, at her core, Ryan’s character is an optimist, and her buoyancy – even when forced – keeps the film from sinking into melodrama.

Some are critical of Ryan’s acting, but we feel she has depth. Look at the scene where she closes her store for the last time, the way she wistfully runs her hand over the wooden counter. It’s depressing, yet Ryan squares her shoulders and marches into her future.

The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail make for a wonderful double-header. You’ll notice many parallels between the two films – far more than we’ve mentioned here.

Watching both films will also make you cheer for bookstores, Margaret Sullavan and the charismatic Meg Ryan.

Notes

  • *The Shop Around the Corner was remade in 1949 as In the Good Old Summertime. Even though it stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson, let’s pretend we’ve never heard of it.
  • This post is part of the MEG RYAN BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON hosted by Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies.

Advertisements

45 comments

  1. Great writeup, Ruth. I’ve seen the Ryan movie two or three times — it’s one of Pam’s guilty pleasures — but, although I keep meaning to dig out my copy of The Shop Around the Corner for a watch, I STILL haven’t gotten round to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review, although I couldn’t disagree with you more. I liked Jean Stapleton’s sly supporting role far better than that of dewey-eyed Meg. And isn’t it amazing how quickly that movie dated? The story was obviously based on book superstores such as Borders, which bit the dust just a few years after this film came out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Even though I generally prefer the original to the remake, I confess that You’ve Got Mail is my favorite interpretation of this story. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are so charming and comfortable together. Plus, I love how New York City almost becomes a secondary character in the film. This is a family favorite at my house too and also one I quote often.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love and own all three movies (Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail). The last one cut out the secondary plot of the shop owner – Frank Morgan and SZ Cuddles who add wonderful pathos and humor to their versions. I really enjoy Judy Garland and Van Johnson in their roles and get goosebumps during the scene where she finds out he is her secret admirer -“Dear Friend”. I think you have short changed it.

    Like

  5. Thank you for your involvement in the blogathon. Your lovely post is a timely reminder that it’s been far too long since I last watched The Shop Around the Corner. I do always watch You’ve Got Mail at this time of year because it paints a picture of beautiful New York City, with autumn leaves and cafes on the Upper West Side. Some may be critical of Ryan’s acting, I, like you, enjoy watching her. I think Meg was an old Hollywood soul at heart, I only wish she’d have got the chance to team up with Tom Hanks and Clooney in an update of another 40’s classic, The Philadelphia Story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a great article. I love You’ve Got Mail so much, and was not even aware that people were critical of Ryan’s performance. I thought it was good. I know a movie where her character was much more annoying and unbearable – Kate & Leopold. I love all the humour in You’ve Got Mail – that Godfather reference scene along is something else, and yes, you are so right – NYC is a stand-alone character in that movie.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hanks: “The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. What should I pack for my summer vacation? ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” 🙂 You’ve Got Mail has such a good humorous vibe to it. I also like that scene where Kathleen ends up holding a knife pointing at Joe and her boyfriend takes it away from her, when they attend a social event.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Can you imagine, I watched neither! I’ve heard a lot about the one with Ryan though. But having seen the images and read the post, I think I’ll watch The Shop Around the Corner first. I find it more intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoy both films because the stars make the unlikely premise work. There’s minimal magic, though, in the Judy-Van version despite the presence of “Cuddles.” It’s rather perplexing! I do wish Pop! would show Meg’s film less often. No reason to wear out a delightful pic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. *Sniffles* Two of my faves and reliving them here was such a treat. Great time of year for that annual trip to Budapest 🙂 (that post office scene never fails to reduce me to tears!!). Oh, and the ending of You’ve Got Mail… sigh. I’ve been a longtime fan of Meg’s since she was on As the World Turns and it’s been great to watch her career grow. This post is a wonderful tribute!

    Liked by 1 person

      • My son loves The Shop Around the Corner, so I know that’s up for seeing soon. You’ve Got Mail is usually on about this time too, so I think we’ll all have a chance to enjoy them soon 🙂 Thanks for your post!! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Ruth,

    This is a great article! You really compared these films well! I haven’t seen “You’ve Got Mail,” but I’ve read a lot about it. I like the way you described it. In the screenshots you provided, Meg Ryan looked a lot like Margaret Sullavan.

    By the way, I just nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. I look forward to reading your response! Here is the article: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/the-versatile-blogger-award/. Near the end of this article, I described a new series which we are going to be starting on the website in 2019. It is called “What the Code Means to Me,” and it is a series of guest articles. I would like to invite you to participate in it! We could really use your talent.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Beautiful cheerful review!
    Thanks for reminding me of ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (1940), I loved it when I watched it about 15 years ago. ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998) is a pretty good remake, thanks to Hanks and Ryan!!
    They definitely don’t make rom-coms like they use to!

    Liked by 1 person

Start Singin', Mac!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.