By Rachel Sexton
Love letters can be effective things… on the page. Readers can pore over them and swoon. On screen, however, they can prove a visually tricky proposition. Watching someone write isn’t exciting. Same goes for typing. At the same time, there is an emotional truth in love letters that gives a romance more power.
In The Shop Around the Corner and the updated remake You’ve Got Mail, two characters who know and dislike each other in real life don’t know they are falling in love through letters. Though The Shop Around the Corner is modernized in You’ve Got Mail in many ways, especially the technology, they share the same theme that written words reveal the truth.
Based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, The Shop Around the Corner came out in 1940, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Writer and director Nora Ephron adapted the film into You’ve Got Mail in 1998. It stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In both stories, the two lead protagonists are corresponding anonymously while they have contentious interactions in person. However, their method of communication is necessarily different, as is their professional situation.
In The Shop Around the Corner, Alfred Kralik (Stewart) and Klara Novak (Sullavan) work at Matsuchek and Company, a store in Budapest. They got off on the wrong foot the day the store hired her and bicker a lot. Through a personal advertisement, they have been writing each other about “cultural subjects” and addressing their letters “Dear Friend” without revealing their names. Their true personalities meet on the page rather than at work. Kralik is also under stress, as he hopes to get promoted, but Mr. Matsuchek seems distant to him. He abruptly fires Kralik the same day the penpals plan to meet. When Kralik sees Klara is the woman whose words have captured him, he doesn’t reveal who he is because he is now unemployed. He starts to notice, though, that her voice and the author of the letters is the same.
In You’ve Got Mail, the characters of Joe Fox (Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) exchange emails. The method is, ironically, as quaint as letters to us now, because their internet relies on dial-up (that modem sound!), with no smartphone or texting. The two meet in person when his family’s nationwide bookstore chain opens a new location near her children’s bookshop. Again, when the male lead learns who he is really talking to online, he begins to see the real compatibility he has with the woman he’s been sparring with. The career situation is different here, though; while circumstances lead to Kralik getting rehired and then a promotion at Matsuchek and Company, Joe’s family’s new store puts Kathleen’s shop out of business.
It doesn’t matter if it’s putting pen to paper as in The Shop Around the Corner, or typing words onto a screen as in You’ve Got Mail, the love notes exchanged between the lead characters reveal their true selves before they even meet in real life. Both Kralik and Joe use the same phrase to describe a set-down given to them by their lady after finding out who she is: “That was the perfect blend of poetry and meanness.” Anyone should be able to figure out that both couples end up clinched in a kiss after the men reveal their identities to Klara and Kathleen. It’s a happy ending that’s a long time coming but the audience feels confident it will work out for them, because the truth was in the words all along.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.