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TOPPER(director: Norman Z. McLeod; screenwriters: from the novel The Jovial Ghosts by Thorne Smith/Jack Jevne/Eric Hatch/Eddie Moran; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: William Terhune; music: Edward B. Powell/Hugo Friedhofer; cast: Constance Bennett (Marion Kerby), Cary Grant (George Kerby), Roland Young (Cosmo Topper), Billie Burke (Clara Topper), Alan Mowbray (Wilkins), Eugene Pallette (Casey), Arthur Lake (Elevator Boy), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Stuyvesant), Doodles Weaver (Rustic), Three Hits and a Miss (Themselves), Hoagy Carmichael (Bill, the Piano Player), Betty Blythe (Lady), Ward Bond (Eddie), Lana Turner (Extra); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach; MGM; 1937)
“The film is noted for making Cary Grant a major star.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There were two sequels to the surprise hit film of 1937 – Topper Takes a Trip (1939) and Topper Returns (1941), and it also spawned a TV series. Roland Young, who played Topper, and Billie Burke, who played his wife, appear in all three films. Norman Z. McLeod (“Horse Feathers”/”It’s a Gift”/”The Paleface”) directs this spirited screwball comedy about a pair of ghosts playfully haunting a dull NYC banker. It’s based on the novel The Jovial Ghosts by Thorne Smith, and is co-written by Eric Hatch and Eddie Moran. Looking back at it from the new century, the lighthearted fantasy appears pleasant enough but only as a good example of a fluff piece from the 1930s.

A fun-loving couple, wealthy Long Island socialites George and Marion Kerby (Cary Grant & Constance Bennett), return from the dead after a fatal car accident in their flashy roadster to help a henpecked husband Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Cosmo is the Wall Street bank president where George is on the board of directors, as the largest stockholder. The change of life for the middle-aged Cosmo comes when over his overbearing wife Clara’s (Billie Burke) objection, he buys George’s reconditioned convertible speedster. He’s soon haunted by the ghosts of George and Marion, who want to do Topper a good deed so they can leave the Earth and be free from their state of limbo. Their good deed involves loosening up the staid banker. The friendly ghosts are sometimes visible and sometimes can’t be seen but can be heard. Their carefree ways supposedly make Cosmo a better man and brings him closer to his wife, but also brings chaos to his once orderly life.

The good-natured contrived humor is agreeable. The film is well-executed. The acting is fine. The photography includes interesting trick illusionary shots. But the supernatural farce takes too long to get going and when it does, the absurdities never become that funny. In any case, the film is noted for making Cary Grant a major star.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”