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Topper (1937)

July. 16,1937
| Fantasy Comedy Romance

Madcap couple George and Marion Kerby are killed in an automobile accident. They return as ghosts to try and liven up the regimented lifestyle of their friend and bank president, Cosmo Topper. When Topper starts to live it up, it strains relations with his stuffy wife.


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Champagne swilling Constance Bennett has been out all night partying with her husband (Cary Grant), and when he stops into the bank (but doesn't come back to their limousine right away), Bennett saunters right into the office of Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), with one of the clerks saying my above comment to a co-worker to hilarious delight. Marian and George Kirby are a fun-loving Nick and Nora type who probably couldn't hold down day jobs, but in spite of their free-for-all lifestyle, you can't help but love them. Tragedy occurs one day when the speeding George ends up crashing their car, killing them instantly. Having lead a frivolous life, they find that they are "left behind" and must perform some good deeds to move onto the after life. They are definitely not bad people, so it is obvious where they are going, but their mission on earth has not been completed, hence their remaining around in limbo.One day, naive Cosmo Topper crashes through the newly replaced fence which George and Marian had previously crashed through. "Would you take your hand off my wife's leg?", Grant's voice bellows to Young, sitting on a log, as he reappears so only Young can see him, soon afterwards followed by his wife. It comes their duty to help reconcile Cosmo and his suspicious, jealous wife (Billie Burke), and that's what occurs in the next 90 minutes as Grant and Bennett do their best to perform one good deed to move on. Special effects had been used in science fiction or fantasy movies before, but this was perhaps the first comedy to utilize it so wonderfully. Ironically, the very same year, Young had his own dramatic fantasy with "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", but his light-hearted character here is obviously having much more fun even though he's extremely perplexed by being befriended by two ghosts.The first of three "Topper" movies (and one of half a dozen pairings of Billie Burke and Roland Young as flibberty-gibbit spouses) is one of the classic screwball comedy's of all time. Grant and Bennett appear to be having a perfectly marvelous time as they seem more alive as ghosts than some live people do on a normal basis. However, it is Young's performance, reacting to everything around him, that wins attention here, with Burke a close second. She's not the bird-like stereotype that she would be in the last film or her many other roles (just see her in "Dinner at Eight" to see her being truly dramatic as a downright ridiculous woman), and for those who know her only from "The Wizard of Oz" will be delighted to see her out of her good witches' uniform and in some wonderful gowns. She has a great chemistry with droll Alan Mowbray who would play her butler and companion in the first two films. The screenplay is practically perfect, the art deco sets fantastic to look at, and the pace delightfully speedy.


This is the film that got the ball rolling for Cary Grant in all of those screwball comedies we loved him for throughout the late 30's and into the 40's.There is typical Cary Grant charm throughout,though the show is nearly stolen from him by Roland Young,who,despite the fact that he plays the title character,is listed as a supporting player rather than star.This story of a recklessly irresponsible rich couple meeting their fate in an auto accident and trying to earn their way to the pearly gates by adding flair to the dull life of another is a charmer worth revisiting again and again.A must see for fans of Cary Grant and the comedy genre.


Norman Z. McLeod, the director of this delightful classic 1937 comedy, is rarely mentioned when the names of the great comedy directors of the Hollywood's golden era are listed in the history books. In every sense an "invisible director," in that he never draws intention to himself, his perfect staging and timing here is truly admirable. Every joke, however silly, works. McLeod's fast-paced style had much to with the success of the early Paramount Marx Bros. and W.C. films for which he is rarely given credit. Just compare McLeod's light but sure touch to what the heavy-handed studio director Sam Woods wrought a few years later on the Marx Brothers at MGM (DAY AT THE RACES). TOPPER is helped enormously by a perfect cast, and for that we have the producer Hal Roach to thank; rarely have so many wonderful and attractive comedians been assembled: Cary Grant, Roland Young, Constance Bennet, Billie Burrke, Eugene Palette, Alan Mowbray and Arthur "Dagwood" Lake. One of the best zany comedies of the late thirties-- romantic, sexy and hilarious!


Enjoyable fluff about a stuffy banker who loosens up a bit after meeting the freshly-minted ghosts of a couple of fun-loving bank stockholders. Grant and Bennett (in her most notable role) seem to be having fun as the ghostly couple who don't let death cramp their style and Young is perfectly cast in the title role of the banker. Burke, the good witch from "The Wizard of Oz," plays Topper's overbearing wife. The cast also features Palette as a hotel detective and Lake, who would go on to play Dagwood Bumstead in "Blondie" films, as an elevator boy. While the antics of the invisible ghosts lead to some amusing scenes, the film rarely rises above the level of a sitcom.