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Topper (1937)

topper

“Drive in that? You’re asking me to drive in a car that looks like a painted Jezebel. And drive it to a roadhouse? Why, it’d be like going to the opera in my night gown!”

So says the reserved Billie Burke to her husband Cosmo Topper played by Roland Young in his Oscar nominated performance for Best Supporting Actor. Living a rather dull life is about to change for the hen pecked banker due to some other worldly spirits.

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Constance Bennett and Cary Grant play a young married couple in this Norman Z. McLeod comedy with plenty of money to spare. They live a carefree lifestyle and enjoy having a good time. Perhaps a younger version of Nick and Nora Charles. Things are about to take an unexpected turn when they crash their car and have their spirits rise from their bodies. They quickly realize they’ve become ghosts. However, that isn’t going to get in the way of them having a good time.

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When Young finds himself in the exact location of their crash he gains two spirits who plan on helping him spread his wings and enjoy life. This is where the film enters into the screwball comedy genre so popular during the era of this MGM production. Young quickly finds himself drunk and disorderly as well as rumored to have been seen about with a beautiful blonde. Yes, our spirits can be seen when they choose to be.

Faithful wife Burke isn’t happy with her hubbies picture on the front page of the paper. He’s been in a brawl with the likes of Ward Bond. The pranks continue as Miss Bennett becomes somewhat of an infatuation to Young. Problem is he just can’t keep up with her childish ways. She’s playful and way too troublesome for his reserved way of life.

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The pranks and pratfalls go for the funny bone when Young checks into a swank hotel with Bennett’s ghost along for the ride. House detective Eugene Pallette is about to have his hands full with flying pens, sliding chairs and upset diners. Bellhop Arthur Lake isn’t sure what Young’s tricks are but he wants nothing to do with the elderly banker who is making his job miserable as well. Once Cary Grant catches up to his runaway ghost wife the hauntings only escalate.

Top special effects for the time period are employed along with a naughty Constance Bennett to make this film a winner. Roland Young as Topper was successful enough to spawn two sequels to this comedy gem. Bennett joined him in the first one titled Topper Takes a Trip and the ghost of Joan Blondell signs up for third film, Topper Returns.

I was a bit surprised at the screen time assigned to Cary Grant here as it’s substantially less then Bennett’s but then in 1937 Grant wasn’t quite the huge name that we know him as today. He was second billed below Constance and above Young during the opening credits.

Among those that turn up here are Hoagy Carmichael on the piano, Alan Mowbray as a stuffy butler(aside from Godfrey was there any other kind?) and Hedda Hopper as a socialite. Apparently Lana Turner is in the background of a nightclub scene  but I didn’t spot her.

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I do recall briefly a TV movie when I was a kid starring Kate Jackson, Andrew Stevens and Jack Warden in the roles of the three leads but it’s been so long there is little I can remember about it. According to more than one source, this 1937 film was the first to be colorized in 1985 when that procedure began thus causing somewhat of a controversy.

There were a couple of lines in the script that made me take pause. The word ectoplasm was uttered making me realize that word existed way before The Ghostbusters made it an everyday household phrase. Lastly our house detective Pallette was accused of being a Sherlock. So somewhere after the Doyle novels and before the Rathbone films this phrase was already in use. Something I may not have guessed.

As for Topper, well worth catching up to. Glad I did.

3 Comments »

  1. Another movie I haven’t seen for an awful long time – I’d totally forgotten about it to be honest. I remember seeing the sequels at one time too and I *think* they were pretty entertaining too.

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