In 1965, the Czech film, Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’ “The Shop on Main Street” won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and this film ends in a manner not easily foreseen. Tony (Josef Kroner) is a clumsy, henpecked husband called on by his town’s Nazi controllers to be the “Aryan controller” of a button shop owned by Mrs. Lautmann (Idá Kaminská), a hard-of-hearing old woman unaware of the war brewing outside her store walls. Given one of the main characters is a weak old lady, one anticipates cloying tragedy, but for a good while the filmmakers mine some hearty laughs out of the situation, with Tony’s klutzy and weak-willed ways often making him decidedly not the boss in the shop. But when the darkness of reality sets in the story, it is not in the manipulative way one anticipates; the film’s final half hour is tense and emotionally brutal, due in no small part to Kaminská and Kroner’s charged performances. Some have considered the last shots of the film to be a bit of sugarcoating, and in a sense I agree, but that move in no way negates the raw power of what led up to those final frames.
Criterion has given this film the exact same treatment on DVD. The disc boasts new digital transfers that don’t wipe away every last speck and scratch but are no less sparkling; the film’s U.S. trailers; and removable English subtitles. Proper background on the film’s historical context is provided in essays in the disc booklet and not the disc itself, making for a pretty barebones presentation on each, but the fact that this film is available to watch for a larger audience surely does not count for nothing.
Specifications: 1.33:1 full frame; Czech Dolby Digital mono; removable English subtitles.