Topper (1937)

“I want to drink, I want to dance, I want to sing… I want to have fun — whee!”

Synopsis:
When a fun-loving socialite couple (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett) is killed in an automobile accident, their ghosts attempt to do a “good deed” by helping a repressed banker (Roland Young) with an uptight wife (Billie Burke) live life more fully.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this supernatural box office hit — which sparked two sequels and a television series — is “not nearly as good as its reputation”. If one can forgive its countless logistical loopholes (why don’t any representatives from the “Other Side” ever show up to validate the proceedings?), the fact remains that “most of the humor is silly; the special effects aren’t that imaginative… and the storyline doesn’t have enough surprises”. In addition, despite the fact that this was a major breakthrough role for him, Cary Grant “isn’t in the picture enough”; and while Bennett is a sparkling actress who “turns in a comedic performance worthy of [Carole] Lombard”, her desire to pursue “Topper” (Young) so aggressively — while Grant waits petulantly in the wings — simply doesn’t ring true. Young is perfectly cast in the lead role, and admirably engages in several sequences of amusing slapstick; however, Billie Burke (typecast as his socially conscious wife) is simply annoying (that voice!). Topper is worth a look by all film fanatics for its historical relevance, but is ultimately a disappointment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Constance Bennett as Marion Kerby
    Topper Bennett
  • Cary Grant’s droll delivery as George Kerby: “All right, I’ll change the tire… But I’ll be darned if I’ll waste any ectoplasm doing it!”
    Topper Grant
  • Roland Young as Cosmo Topper
    Topper Young

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its historical popularity. But don’t expect to be as amused as contemporary audience members once were…

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One Response to “Topper (1937)”

  1. Not a must.

    Hadn’t seen this since I was a kid. It hasn’t held up…at all.

    I’m more or less in agreement with the assessment here – except for two points: it seems to me that no one from ‘the Other Side’ shows up because Grant and Bennett come to believe they have to ‘earn’ the right to get to ‘the Other Side’ (so whoever is there is apparently waiting for the two to ‘make good’); also, Grant is in quite a bit of the picture, in fact – if it doesn’t seem that way, that’s probably because he appears to be phoning in his performance (and the role is beneath his talents, so there’s little he can do with it anyway).

    What is most troubling about ‘Topper’ is how irritatingly DULL it is! Large sections of it appear to have no pulse. (Note the opening scene in which we’re introduced to the Kerbys: they’re so jaded – and I know that’s part of the point but – the effect is that they could be on Xanax. As well, note when Topper first begins to team up with the Kerbys for his ‘makeover’; that whole long scene goes nowhere and has the mark of having been served up by drunk screenwriters desperate to get anything on the page.)

    There is a brief sequence midway during which Topper gets a reputation for being ‘scandalous’ and is suddenly sought after by the elite who had barely given him a second thought. (“Living with Mr. Topper must be like dancing on dynamite!”) The scene shows promise…and then that whole avenue is abandoned. From there, we get little further development, tho we do get an attempt at zany antics befitting a climax. To top ‘Topper’ off, tho, the ‘good deed’ premise set up for the Kerbys rather fizzles in confusion.

    ‘Topper’ was a hit in its day. No doubt it was a novelty item. Countless ghost stories have come our way in the decades since – and they owe little to ‘Topper’ directly, so there’s not much point in using the film as a reference.

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