Modern Hollywood gets plenty of well-deserved grief for rebooting stories before the originals have even faded from memory, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Case in point: this 1949 Judy Garland vehicle that is an update of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner, which was itself an adaptation of a 1937 Hungarian play. The story also served as the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail, as well as the recent stage musical, She Loves Me. In all instances, the plot revolves around secret pen pals who fall in love without realizing their fellow writer is someone they don’t get along with in real life.
Garland stars as a newly hired shop girl named Veronica who is tasked with selling instruments in a music store, particularly a slow-selling mini harp. Among her co-workers is a prickly veteran named Andrew (Van Johnson) who bristles at her different but successful approach to salesmanship. They’re not particularly fond of each other at work, but woo each other in secret as pen pals before agreeing to meet in real life. After a series of misadventures and musical numbers, the pair finally reveal themselves as the pen pals.
The addition of songs is the biggest difference from the Stewart movie. It’s not really a musical, the songs are mostly just solo numbers by Garland in service to selling things at the music store. Her one standout number with a barbershop quartet finds her almost rapping her staccato lines in between harmonizing with the men. The shift in venue results in the change to the central product of the mini harp from the cigar box of the original film and musical, providing an excuse for songs. The film is also set earlier in time, apparently very early 20th century, giving it unnecessary period film baggage. Van Johnson is affable but unmemorable as the male lead, but it’s worth noting that one of the other shop workers is screen legend Buster Keaton, here appearing in his final film for the studio he’d first joined in 1928.
The new Blu-ray is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, with a lovely remaster that removes all imperfections and maintains color and contrast consistency throughout. Sound is delivered in a solid DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mono track, also with no apparent flaws. While the film isn’t one of Garland’s best and obviously lacks originality, it’s still a pleasant feel-good romance sure to satisfy her fans.
The special features are led off with an introduction by a Garland biographer, but the most entertaining features are two historical FitzPatrick Traveltalks shorts about Chicago. They’re both roughly ten minutes long, with the first one taking an enlightening tour all around Chicago and the second exploring Chicago’s nightlife. It’s fascinating to see how built up the city already was in the 1940s, in fact it looks more impressive then than now. The nightlife short isn’t quite as good, since it just tours a couple of clubs and gives samples of the entertainment, including a dancing horse, but it’s still a fun trip into the archives. Bonus features are rounded out with a few theatrical trailers. In the Good Old Summertime is now available.