Topper (1937) B+
In 1937, producer Hal Roach, then best known for the Laurel and Hardy movies, decided to make a more sophisticated screwball comedy, “Topper,” starring Cary Grant, based on Thorne Smith’s fantasy novel of the same title.
Constance Bennett, then a bigger star than Grant, got first billing. Cary Grant plays George Kerby, and Bennett Marion, a wealthy, freewheeling young married couple who live a seductive, uninhibited lifestyle.
After a particularly joyous and boozy night, the Kerbys race homeward in their new roadster. George fails to negotiate a curve, and the car plows into a tree, killing both of them.
But seconds later, the ghosts of George and Marion emerge from the wreckage, behaving as frivolously as if nothing had happened. Upon realizing that they’re dead, the still giddy Kerbys also realize that they haven’t been immediately sent to Heaven.
Determined to perform one good deed, George and Marion set about to “liberate” stuffy, sedate, henpecked banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). At first, he is resistant to the charms of his invisible benefactors, but then he begins to loosen up and enjoy life for the first time.
Quite expectedly, this change doesn’t sit well with Topper’s supercilious wife (Billie Burke) or his butler (Alan Mobray), especially during a climactic vacation resort.
Though special effects abound in “Topper,” most of the humor derives from the unanticipated situations and the embarrassed reactions of Roland Young as he tries to fend off the flirtatious advances of the ghostly Marion and George’s benignly strongman tactics.
Adding to the fun is a great supporting cast: Eugene Pallette as a flustered house detective and Arthur Lake as a pratfalling bellboy.
The musical score by vet composer Marvin Hatley is attuned to the madcap adventures and zany comedy. Hoagy Carmichael appears briefly on screen to introduce the film’s signature tune, “Old Man Moon.”
“Topper” was such a successful hit that it led to two sequels, in 1938 and in 1941, as well as a popular TV series in the early 1950s.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Supporting Actor: Roland Young
Sound recording: Elmer Raguse
Oscar Awards: None
The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Joseph Schildkraut for “The Life of Emile Zola.”
The Sound Oscar went to Thomas T. Moulton for “The Hurricane.”
Running time: 97 Minutes.
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod.
Written By: Thorne Smith, Jack Jevne, Eric Hatch, E. Edwin Moran.
Released: July 16, 1937.
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