Stars: Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, George Sanders
About a week after Warner Archive became a thing, 5 years ago, I started begging them for this movie on DVD. On April 1st, 2014, my dream of Her Cardboard Lover DVD ownership came true. At first, I thought the company was pulling a prank. Because, as we all know, mega corporations generally zero in on one certain person and prank the living hell out of them. Not really, whatever. The moral of the story here is that with enough gentle prodding (read: Twitter harassment), major corporations may someday, too, take your suggestions.
Let’s get a nice start here- leave your preconceived notions of what this film is at the door. Ignore everything that your friend Bosley told you. It’s not that bad. It’s not going to be the basis of your doctoral thesis on the art of filmmaking, but it’s not terrible. In fact, a lot of it is actually hilarious. You read that right- Norma Shearer. Hilarious.
To get a proper look at this movie, you really have to forget who Norma Shearer is. Ignore that she was the queen of the lot, over at MGM, because this movie really isn’t Queen Calibre. It’s fluff, pure unadulterated fluff. It’s unbelievable, and no woman in her right mind would act the way that Norma’s character does. OK, perhaps I would hold Robert Taylor as my fake boyfriend/slave for a gambling debt, but other than that, totally not normal stuff. This movie is like a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang away from being categorized as a romantic fantasy. And THAT is why most people hate it. It’s not Normal Norma. To get why she did it, though, instead of Mrs. Miniver, which was offered to her, you have to understand a basic Norma principle. She was terrified of aging. Literally. Maybe not so much the process of it, but that other people might not see her as the Queen, anymore. To be playing a mother of an adult son? Whoa, Nellie, that’s a sign of age! Her image was everything, and where some might call that vanity, I honestly believe that Norma got some pretty messed up life coaching from a lot of pretty ignorant people. So, you know, I’ll forgive her everything, short of shooting up a circus while dressed as Pennywise, which, to my knowledge, she never did. Thumbs up. But, hindsight is 20/20, and every armchair expert condemns Norma for playing, as Greer Garson phrased it, “Hot Pants” instead of Kay Miniver, one of the greatest female roles of the 1940’s.
Here’s the thing- no one at the time was ready for this Norma, trudging through a terrible script and making the best of it. She was faulted for overacting the part, but really, look at what she was dealing with. You listen to some of her lines, and it sounds like the comedic “I love you, I love you, I love you” bit from Singin’ In The Rain. So, you know, to make this Consuelo person somewhat whole, she had to be crazy enough to actually say that tripe. Boom. Norma, the genius of her craft, playing a legitimately insane woman who is chasing after a serial adulterer. I don’t know, I’m just throwing ideas out here. It’s also likely that she was just a committer of bad decisions, knew it was her last movie, never imagined that someone 72 years in the future would be watching it, on repeat, and phoned it all in.
If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance. It packs its fair share of laughs. If anything, you get to see Norma make this face at least 3 times.
You can purchase Her Cardboard Lover at Warner Archive.