Watching: The Lubitsch Touch

Settle in with Jimmy Stewart or Greta Garbo.

By The Watching Team

Dear Watchers,

We know your watching time is limited. And the amount of things available to watch … is not. Looking for a movie? Nearly any movie ever made? It’s probably streaming somewhere. That’s a lot of movies.

Below, we’re suggesting two of them, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations. We think the movies will pair well — with each other and with you.

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Your weekly double feature: The Lubitsch touch

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy “The Shop Around the Corner.”Photofest

‘The Shop Around the Corner’ and ‘Ninotchka’

After the German-born director Ernst Lubitsch emigrated to Hollywood in the early 1920s, his reputation grew as silent films turned to sound and the words spilling out of his early comedies, like “Trouble in Paradise” and “Design for Living,” were especially mellifluous. He later became known for “the Lubitsch touch,” which describes the deftness and sophistication of his work but is best understood first hand.

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“The Shop Around the Corner,” now streaming on HBO Max, is an ideal place to start. Set mostly at an elegant leather goods shop in Budapest, the film carefully lays out the tensions and rivalries within the business before nurturing a classic comedy of misunderstanding. Jimmy Stewart stars as a lonely salesman who has a frosty relationship with a new hire (Margaret Sullavan), not realizing that she’s the same enchanting woman he’s been anonymously corresponding with through the mail. The two don’t discover the truth at the same time, leading to some delightful and, finally, romantic gamesmanship. (The film was reworked, much less persuasively, as the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan rom-com “You’ve Got Mail.”)

One year earlier, Lubitsch drew laughs from another case of mistaken identity with “Ninotchka,” which introduces its romantic leads before they realize they are rivals. As a Russian envoy sent to Paris to retrieve precious jewels for the motherland, Greta Garbo is a deadpan delight, playing up the gray, mirthless austerity of her character’s home country. (When she asks a waiter for a plate of raw beets and carrots, he answers, “Madame, this is a restaurant, not a meadow.”) It’s up to Melvyn Douglas’s charming count, who’s suing for the jewels, to crack that icy veneer. When he does, as the ads famously touted, “Garbo laughs.” — Scott Tobias

Stream “The Shop Around the Corner” on HBO Max. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Rent “Ninotchka” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

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