The retail landscape has altered greatly since Harding, Howell & Co. opened its doors on Pall Mall in London in 1796. Cinema flickered into life 99 years later and its cameras have paid frequent visits to department stores over the ensuing 120 years. So, whether you are schlepping through malls laden down with carriers bags or flexing your plastic online, Cinema Paradiso invites you to take a welcome break from the Christmas shopping and see what's in store.
The exorbitant cost and sheer logistical challenge of creating an authentic retail setting meant that few early films featured busy department stores. A decade had passed, therefore, before pioneering director Edwin S. Porter attempted The Kleptomaniac (1905), which starred Aline Boyd as a shoplifter caught red-handed in a large city store. The police are also called in the Edison Company's unsigned 1911 saga, The Department Store, as some money goes missing, and a besotted errand boy tries to help his gift-wrapping beloved. However, the husband-and-wife team of Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley hit upon the idea of having an innocent shopgirl being led astray by her boss's dashing son in The Price of a Good Time and Mildred Harris's misfortunes similarly befell a young Helen Hayes in Edward Warren's The Weavers of Life (both 1917).
The Shopgirl's Screen Heyday
A year earlier, Charlie Chaplin had excelled as the pesky customer who becomes an accidental hero in The Floorwalker and he would return to the shop floor as a nightwatchman with novel notions of security in his final silent, Modern Times (1936). Fellow slapstick icon Harold Lloyd performed his most famous stunt when hanging from a clock face while attempting to publicise the De Vore Department Store by scaling its facade in Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor's Safety Last! (1923). The latter would also direct Mary Pickford in My Best Girl, which saw America's Sweetheart fall for store owner's son, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. Indeed, several silent sirens played shopgirls, including Louise Brooks, Marie Prevost, Laura La Plante and Clara Bow.
Until the late 1930s, few front-rank directors had made shop movies. But Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch were respectively responsible for You and Me and Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (both 1938). The former sees Sylvia Sidney and George Raft find employment with shop owner Harry Carey, who likes to offer ex-offenders a second chance, while the latter is much more lighthearted, as penniless marquis's daughter Claudette Colbert tilts her cap at much-married billionaire Gary Cooper after they strike a happy bargain while buying pyjamas in a shop on the French Riviera. By contrast, Fred MacMurray leaves his home in Indonesia and falls for Fifth Avenue shopgirl Madeleine Carroll in Edward H. Griffith's Honeymoon in Bali (1939).
The next shop-related pictures proved so successful that they were all remade. Set in Merlin's Department Store, Garson Kanin's Bachelor Mother (1939) was musicalised for Norman Taurog as Bundle of Joy (1956), with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher taking over the roles created by Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Both George Cukor and Diane English's versions of The Women (1939 & 2008) boasted all-star female casts, as Norma Shearer and Meg Ryan respectively seek to prise their husbands out of the clutches of perfume counter assistants Joan Crawford and Eva Mendes. Partnered by Tom Hanks, Ryan also headlines Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail (1998), which followed Robert Z. Leonard's teaming of Judy Garland and Van Johnson in In the Good Old Summertime (1949) in being spun off from Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940), in which James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan delight as antagonistic co-workers who have no idea they're the other's cherished pen pal.
More chaos erupts at the Phelps Department Store when new owner Tony Martin hires Groucho Marx to protect him from the crooked manager in Charles Reisner's The Big Store, while owner Charles Coburn poses as a shoe salesman to spy on union activists Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings in Sam Wood's The Devil and Miss Jones.
In adapting a stage play by SJ Perelman and Ogden Nash, William A. Seiter showed considerable imagination in One Touch of Venus (1948), as a kiss from New York window dresser Robert Walker brings store statue Ava Gardner to vivacious life.
But fewer films were being set in department stores, as they became the site of key scenes rather than entire scenarios. In Otto Preminger's film noir, Whirlpool (1949), for example, psychiatrist's wife Gene Tierney comes under the influence of malevolent hypnotist José Ferrer after she is caught shoplifting. Similarly, Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell are forced to accept work behind counters in Stuart Heisler's The Star (1952) and Morton Da Costa's Auntie Mame (1958), as the former's washed-up Oscar-winning actress reluctantly accepts that her acting career is over and the latter's bohemian gadabout loses her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and takes a sales job at Macy's.
The mood is markedly lighter in Frank Tashlin's Who's Minding the Store? (1963), as dog walker Jerry Lewis is hired by Tuttle Department Store owner Agnes Moorehead in her bid to prove to heiress daughter Jill St John that he is anything but good husband material. Susan Saint James and Barbara Eden also have to choose between career and romance when they take jobs at the new Neyfak's shop in Houston, Texas in Ted Post's The Girls in the Office (1979). However, being hired by Prince & Company in Philadelphia proves to be the making of struggling artist Andrew McCarthy when animated dummy Kim Cattrall helps him become a stellar window dresser in Michael Gottlieb's Mannequin (1987), which spawned a so-so sequel, Stewart Raffill's Mannequin 2: On the Move (1991).
Bloomingdale's in New York becomes a place of refuge for defecting Russian circus saxophonist Robin Williams after he hides under the skirts of perfume counter sales girl Maria Conchita Alonso in Paul Mazursky's dramedy, Moscow on the Hudson (1984). Just across Manhattan, Tom Hanks joined Robert Loggia in a duet on the Walking Piano at the FAO Schwarz toyshop on Fifth Avenue in Penny Marshall's Big (1988). Hanks's life is turned upside down by a trip to the carnival and chance also throws janitor Frank Whaley and bored rich girl Jennifer Connelly together when he gets locked inside the Target store she was intending to steal from in Bryan Gordon's John Hughes-scripted romcom, Career Opportunities (1991).
Coming into the blockbuster era, Christoper Walken's Max Shreck presides over Gotham City's biggest department store in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992), while wild animals roam around some deserted premises in Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995). On a smaller scale, Sean Patrick Flanery is distracted from managing Henri Brendel on Fifth Avenue by Sarah Michelle Gellar's miraculous culinary skills in Mark Tarlov's Simply Irresistible (1999), while pregnant teenager Natalie Portman moves into the Walmart in the Oklahoma town of Sequoyah to give birth to her baby in Matt Williams's Where the Heart Is (2000). She goes on to become a photographer and Robin Williams and Joaquin Phoenix respectively play a disturbed photo technician and a department store shutterbug in Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo (2002) and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012).
Scenes set at Bloomingdale's bookend the action in Peter Chelsom's Serendipity (2001), as John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet over a pair of black cashmere gloves and toast the anniversary of their first meeting. The big guns are out, quite literally, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's assassins get caught up in a big store shootout in Doug Liman's Mr & Mrs Smith (2005). But electronics superstore clerk Steve Carell is content merely to collect action figures in Judd Apatow's comedy, 40 Year-Old Virgin. Finding the right partner is a problem that also occupies Clare Danes, as she ponders the merits of gawky graphic designer Jason Schwartzman and logician Steve Martin while working behind the glove counter of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills in Anand Tucker's Shopgirl (both 2005). Jessica Simpson is also spoilt for choice when Super Club co-workers Dane Cook and Dax Shepard compete for her attention in Greg Coolidge's Employee of the Month, but the outlook seems much bleaker for Queen Latifah, who works in the cookware department of Kragen's in New Orleans, when she is diagnosed with Lampington's Disease in Wayne Wang's romcom, Last Holiday (both 2006).
Although the settings are authentic, the storylines of such diversions can't compete with the day-to-day goings-on recorded in documentaries like Matthew Miele's Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf's (2013). However, Todd Haynes recreates the feel of the Eisenhowerian consumer boom in setting the meeting between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the toy department of Frankenberg's store in Manhattan in Carol (2015). The 1950s are also captured with great finesse in John Crowley's adaptation of Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn, which sees Irish migrant Saoirse Ronan struggle to satisfy Jessica Paré, her supervisor at Bertocci's store, while the Cunard Building in Liverpool allowed Eddie Redmayne to track an escaped critter through 1920s Macy's in David Yates's adaptation of JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).
Malls and Montages
Although the Cinema Paradiso focus is falling on department stores, it would be remiss not to drop into some of American cinema's more iconic shopping malls. Among the busiest venues is the Sherman Oaks Galleria on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, which has featured in such diverse pictures as Amy Heckerling's Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982), Martha Coolidge's Valley Girl (1983), Mark L. Lester's Commando (1985), Joe Dante's Innerspace (1987), Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future, Part II (1989), James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011).
Having been dumped by girlfriends Claire Forlani and Shannen Doherty, slackers Jason Lee and Jeremy London head to retail heaven to plot how to win them back in Kevin Smith's Mallrats (1995). The same year saw Alicia Silverstone resort to retail therapy while trying to sort out the lives of her friends at Bronson Alcott High in Amy Heckerling's Clueless, a neat reworking of Jane Austen's Emma that followed the mall lead set by such 80s teenpics as Joyce Chopra's Smooth Talk and John Hughes's Weird Science (both 1985), in which nerds Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith manage to get one over on bullies Robert Rusler and Robert Downey, Jr. with the help of computer-generated dream woman, Kelly LeBrock. However, they are gazumped by time-travelling dudes Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, who treat Beethoven, Socrates, Billy the Kid and Abraham Lincoln to an outing to the mall in Stephen Herek's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989).
Air hostess Pam Grier pulls off a slick trick of her own between the food court and a clothing store in Jackie Brown (1997), Quentin Tarantino's reworking of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. But, while malls have been cropping up in movies as different as Mark Robson's Earthquake (1974), John Landis's The Blues Brothers (1980), Joseph Zito's Invasion U.S.A. (1985), Jonathan Demme's True Stories (1986) and Roger Donaldson's Justice (2011), few have been set primarily within a shopping complex. Among the honourable exceptions, however, are Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa (2003), which sees Billy Bob Thornton and accomplice Terry Cox plan to shake down the Saguaro Square Mall in Phoenix, Arizona, and Steve Carr's Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009), in which Kevin James foils a gang posing as Santa's Village staff from carrying out a heist at the West Orange Pavilion Mall in New Jersey.
The fact that the key action in the latter takes place on Black Friday provides another indicator of how much the shopping experience has changed in recent times. But the 'shop 'til you drop' montage remains popular with film-makers and who could forget the store sequences in Blake Edwards's Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman (1990), Roger Kumble's The Sweetest Thing, Tom Brady's The Hot Chick (2002), John David Coles's Sex and the City (2003), Mark Waters's Mean Girls (2004), Greg Mottola's Superbad, Kevin Lima's Enchanted (both 2007) and PJ Hogan's Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)?
Shopping European Style
The Griswald family did its bit for the Italian economy with a clothes shopping spree in Rome in Amy Heckerling's National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), although their efforts seem positively restrained by comparison with Kirsten Dunst's gleefully anachronistic shopaholicism in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006). More Parisian outlets feature prominently in Leos Carax's Holy Motors (2012) and Bertrand Bonello's Nocturama (2016), which employs a department store as a centre for subversive activity in much the same way that Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg used the eponymous store as a base for the 1871 Communards in The New Babylon (1929).
Heading further north, Finnish mall guard Janne Hyytiäinen foolishly gives away the security code to crook's accomplice Maria Järvenhelmi in Aki Kaurismäki's typically droll satire, Lights in the Dusk (2006), while Scandinavia's biggest shop, Magasin du Nord, provides Eddie Redmayne with some gainful employment, as he transitions from Einar Wegener to Lili Elbe in 1920s Copenhagen in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl (2015).
American hood Basil Sydney forces actor Joseph Cawthorn to impersonate the owner of the emporium known as 'the House of a Thousand Windows' in Alfred Zeisler's Crime Over London (1936), while the members of the Blood and Thunder Boys become convinced that thieves are using their favourite comic to plan a raid on Rich's Department Store in Charles Crichton's Ealing classic, Hue and Cry (1947).
There are subplots galore in all the departments of Bunting and Hobbs in John Guillermin's wonderfully involving The Crowded Day (1954), although none are as silly as the one concocted by Freddie Garrity and his bandmates in Duncan Wood's Cuckoo Patrol (1967), as Freddie and the Dreamers join the scouts and unwittingly aid crooks Victor Maddern and Arthur Mullard in their nocturnal raid on the Marshall and Snodgrass department store in Cobdale. Returning to London, Grace Brothers was the scene of the long-running BBC sitcom, Are You Being Served? (1972-85), although much of the action in Bob Kellett's 1977 big-screen spin-off was set on the Costa Plonka.
A marked change of pace sees a debuting Jude Law learn how to 'crash and carry' in Paul W.S. Anderson's ramraiding romp, Shopping (1994). But we're back in more civilised territory, as such celebrated London stores as Whiteley's, Selfridge's and Harrod's cameo in such contrasting pictures as Richard Curtis's Love Actually (2003), Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman (2017) and Will Gluck's Peter Rabbit (2018), as well as Jon Jones's acclaimed TV series, Mr Selfridge (2013-16).
Ghouls and Grottos
Satan and Santa have each played their part in cinema's department store story, although there has yet to be a movie entitled Slay Bells Ring, in which demonic elves torment a jolly man in a red suit in a sacrificial grotto. That said, the nine year-old son of a Printemps store manager gets more than he bargained for when he tries to capture Mr Claus in 3615 Code Père Noël (1989), which had enough in common with Chris Columbus's Home Alone (1990) for French director René Manzor reportedly to consider a lawsuit for plagiarism.
George A. Romero had to delay production on Dawn of the Dead (1978) at the Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania because the management insisted on hanging its traditional Christmas decorations during the shoot. There's no evidence that Zach Snyder ran into similar difficulties when he remade the story of the undead rampaging through the Crossroads Mall in Everett, Wisconsin in 2004. More flesh-eating zombies go identify a mall as a rich source of pickings in Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and Thom Eberhardt's Night of the Comet (1984). Although the imperilled at the Park Plaza complex in Jim Wynorski's Chopping Mall (1986) are more worried about the security robots that have gone rogue following an electrical storm.
Elsewhere, James Brolin comes to question the customer service after finding himself at the mercy of six slavering guard dogs after he is locked in for the night after being mugged in a shop bathroom in Frank De Felitta's Trapped (1973). In truth, he gets off pretty lightly compared to Daphne Zuniga and her college roommates when they are locked into her rich father's department store with a crazed killer in Larry Stewart's The Initiation (1984). A couple of computer hackers are also forced to spend a night in a store with a maniac in Stephen Hopkins's Dangerous Game (1987), which boasted one of the biggest sets ever constructed for an Australian movie.
A disused Los Angeles warehouse was converted into the furniture store in which eight high-schoolers spend a terrifying graduation night in Skip Schoolnik's Hide and Go Shriek (1988), while both the Sherman Oaks Galleria and the Promenade in Woodland Hills did duty as the mall built on the site of a suspicious house fire in Richard Friedman's Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989). The deserted mall in Glendale, Arizona becomes the refuge for the residents of the mining town of Prosperity when a rabbit has a close encounter with a vat of toxic waste in Ellory Elkayem's Eight Legged Freaks (2002), while an empty Robinsons-May store in Arcadia, California stood in for Bloomingdale's in Matt Reeves's gripping found footage creature feature, Cloverfield (2008).
The rivalry between Gimbels and Macy's came most memorably to the fore in George Seaton's Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which was remade for television in 1973 by Fielder Cook and for the big screen in 1994 by Les Mayfield. Sebastian Cabot and Richard Attenborough succeeded the Oscar-winning Edmund Gwenn in the role of Kris Kringle, although the stores in the latter were called Cole's and Shopper's Express, as Macy's refused to allow the use of its name, while Gimbels had gone out of business. Set in the fictional New York store of Crowley's, Dan Hartman's underrated Holiday Affair (1949) was remade by Alan Myerson in 1996, with David James Elliott and Cynthia Gibbs taking the parts originally played by Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.
Both versions are available from Cinema Paradiso, as are Bob Clark's A Christmas Story (1983), Joe Dante's Gremlins (1984), Brian Levant's Jingle All the Way (1996), William Dear's Santa Who? (2000), Jon Favreau's Elf (2003) and Todd Strauss-Schulson's A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011).