The 1942 Norma Shearer/Robert Taylor comedy "Her Cardboard Lover," which Warner Archive recently released on DVD, puts every romantic comedy of the 21st century to shame. It also provides Shearer a great note on which to end her more than 20-year film career, but one would expect no less from equally acclaimed director George Cukor.
This impeccably presented tale commences with Taylor's love-struck Terry Trindale rapidly amassing a large debt to the object of his affection, Shearer's Consuelo Croyden. Croyden uses that leverage to coerce Trindale into preventing her from running into the arms (and other body parts) of the cad who is the object of her affection. Uber-awesome talent George Sanders portrays said cad, who is Tony Barling.
Another way of thinking of all of this is that he loves her, but she loves him. You just can't win; love stinks. Ya Ya.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of two early scenes in "Cardboard" offers a good sense of both the film and the chemistry among the leads.
Frank McHugh, who has 165 acting credits, contributes to the fun as Chappie Champagne, who is the a member of the song-writing duo Trindale and Champagne. This role can be thought of as McHugh playing Costello to Trindale's Abbott.
Hilarity ensues when Trindale quickly likes his work too well, Croyden tries to prevent Trindale from protecting her from her worst enemy, and Barling does not make things easy for either of them.
The Tom and Jerry (a.k.a. cat-and-mouse) style tactics of Trindale and Croydon that comprise roughly one-half of the film are always at least amusing and often hilarious. These include expert mimicry and wonderfully intentionally horrible bad acting.
One must-see scene has Trindale donning Croydon's sleeping attire and climbing into her bed in the presence of Barling. Trindale additionally shows his willingness to risk life and limb to keep Croydon from Barling.
This triangle leads to a masterpiece of a slapstick brawl that leads to a fairly common scene of Trindale and Barling in court where repressed truths are revealed; all of this culminates in the proverbial (and respectable) happy ending.
The relatively innocent PG-style of this truly romantic comedy makes it a great treat for modern audiences. Clever dialog and staging alone are refreshing changes from modern examples of this genre.
The lack of an embarrassing public and/or grand declaration of love is also nice. On top of this, there is no gay best friend/outrageous fool/confidante to both provide the primary comic relief and demonstrate that the scorned woman is so cool that she has chosen this individual as her platonic special someone.
The sad truth regarding all this is that that simply do not make them like that any more when it comes to romcoms.
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