The 1942 production Her Cardboard Lover may be a minor comedy by definition, but it remains an important artifact for one simple reason: it is star Norma Shearer’s last film. At the age of 42, Shearer decided to end her nearly two-decade long career after the mediocre public reception of this film. Audiences were more interested in dramatic, patriotic films during the middle of World War II, and were not receptive of the silly humor found in Her Cardboard Lover. Even cast members such as Robert Taylor reported that they were distracted by the current affairs of the world during the shooting of this film. Still, if Norma Shearer had been truly tired or unenthusiastic about acting, it doesn’t show in this film (critics be damned).
At the beginning of Cardboard Lover, Terry Trindale (Robert Taylor) discusses his recent disappearance with his songwriting partner Chappie Champagne (Frank McHugh). Chappie is worried about his friend, who left an ominous note days ago and has not been seen since. The reason for his strange disappearance? He has fallen in love:
Terry: “Listen: it’s happened to me. Did you ever get knocked off your feet? Dizzy? Slaphappy? Hit between the eyes so that you couldn’t see straight?”
Chappie:”Yeah, once. She had a boyfriend. A prizefighter. Hey, is this a dame?”
Terry: “Dame, Chappie? Oh, no. She’s the most wonderful, the loveliest–I don’t know, she’s out of this world. She’s way up there, Chappie, like a new moon in the sky.”
Terry is smitten, although he admits to his pal Chappie that he’s never spoken to her. For the past few days, Terry has been going from party to party, following and admiring the beauty from afar. When Chappie sees the woman and tells Terry that it would be “against nature” for the two to be together, Terry decides he should finally speak to the high-class lady. His first words upon meeting her? “I love you!”
Unfortunately for the sweet and faithful Terry, the beautiful Consuelo Croyden (Norma Shearer) is already in love–with her ex-lover, the womanizing Tony Barling (George Sanders). Terry and Consuelo end up spending each day together, though, as she hires him to pose as her new love in order to keep herself away from the heartbreaking Tony. She demands that Terry sign a ten-week contract to keep her away from Tony, for her own good. Although at the beginning of this arrangement she is firm in her resolve of staying out of Tony’s arms, she begins to break and attempts to cancel her contract with Terry. She tries to trick him, she tries to hurt him, she even tries to seduce him, but nothing will make Terry forgo his promise of keeping Consuelo away from the man that they both know will eventually break her heart.
Even after Tony nonchalantly tells Consuelo that he will continue to have affairs with other women, she is still determined to be with him. It isn’t until she completely belittles Terry and plans to leave with Tony that she realizes she has made a mistake. Although it may seem farfetched for Consuelo to want to be with Tony, she does have a history with him, and he is quite suave and cool (it IS George Sanders, after all), whereas Terry is goofy and eccentric. All works out well in the end, however, making this a perfect feel-good film.
Indeed, Her Cardboard Lover is such fun. I literally laughed out loud multiple times throughout. From the witty dialogue to the ridiculous comedic situations the characters find themselves in, this movie is sure to please those looking for a light-hearted romantic comedy. I found myself almost writing the entire script when I went to jot down great quotes to include in this review. And though Norma Shearer turned down the great 1942 romantic classic Now, Voyager to make this film (giving Bette Davis one of the seminal roles of her distinguished career), I can’t say it was too bad a decision on Shearer’s part, because she’s utterly delightful here in her final onscreen performance.
Her Cardboard Lover is now available from Warner Archive through their MOD (manufactured-on-demand) service. As with many MOD editions, the extras are sparse; the DVD contains no special features other than the original trailer for the film.
True Classics thanks Warner Archive for providing a copy of Her Cardboard Lover for the purposes of this review.