Review: George Cukor’s “Her Cardboard Lover,” Starring Norma Shearer

Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and George Sanders in
Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and George Sanders in "Her Cardboard Lover"

George Cukor today has a reputation as one of the great “woman’s directors,” with films like The Women, Gaslight, Camille, A Star is Born, and more classic female-driven stories. But Cukor could not always work magic. Though The Philadelphia Story resurrected Katharine Hepburn’s career in 1940, his subsequent films killed the careers of two other MGM stars: in 1941, Greta Garbo threw in the towel after the disaster of Two-Faced Woman, and in 1942 Cukor directed what would end up the final film of another star from the silent era. Norma Shearer had been on a downward trajectory for a while, just like Garbo, but as with Two-Faced Woman, Shearer’s Her Cardboard Lover was a stale trifle that reinforced her outdated stardom.

Based on a play by Jacques Deval (who adapted it into a screenplay with John Collier, Anthony Veiller, and William H. Wright), Cukor’s film reunited Robert Taylor with Shearer after the mild success of their 1940 film Escape. Consuelo (Shearer) hires Terry (Taylor) to pose as her lover in order to fend off her ex, Tony (George Sanders). Consuelo is madly in love with Tony but knows that he’s bad for her—his womanizing drives her into fits of jealousy. Terry is more than happy to oblige, as he himself is madly in love with Consuelo and can’t stand Terry. Various antics ensue, slowly becoming more and more insufferable until a third act, in which every scene is an endlessly unfunny setpiece. Shearer seems lost, and Taylor has to play jokes far goofier than he can pull off.

Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and George Sanders in "Her Cardboard Lover"
Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and George Sanders in “Her Cardboard Lover”

Cukor had agreed to work on the film, having directed the play for the stage back in the twenties. “But now I wish I hadn’t,” he later said. “The plot was already too dated to engage a wartime audience.” Taylor’s excuse was the same, saying, “There was a war going on so I had more important things on my mind.”1

It was unfortunate for Shearer that she chose this project, but even more so considering she turned down two of the biggest hits of the year: Now, Voyager and Mrs. Miniver.2 Meanwhile, Her Cardboard Lover lost MGM $348,000, her second film in a row to lose a substantial amount of money.3 She chose not to renew her contract (the film has been the last of a six-picture deal), opting instead to go on vacation—one that lasted the rest of her life.4 Her twenty-one-year career ended with an unfortunate whimper, while for Taylor and Cukor the film amounted to merely a bump in the road, their careers lasting for many decades more.

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For More on Her Cardboard Lover

Read the review in The New York Times

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References   [ + ]

1. Eleanor Quin, “Her Cardboard Lover”, Turner Classic Movies, accessed May 30, 2017.
2. Gavin Lambert, Norma Shearer (New York: Knopf, 1990), 298.
3. Mark H. Glancy, “MGM Film Grosses, 1924–1948: The Eddie Mannix Ledger.” Historical Journal Of Film, Radio And Television 12, no. 2 (1992): 127-44.
4. Gavin Lambert, Norma Shearer (New York: Knopf, 1990), 300.