- by Zoë
Topper is a hen-pecked
banker. Marion and George (Toppers principle stockholder), get killed in a
car accident. Before they can rest in peace they must perform a good deed -
stop Topper from being so damn domesticated.
Topper was movie-maker Hal Roach's jump from two-reel
comedies to the big-time movies. The special effects are amazing, all being
"in-the-camera" techniques, and not the blue-screen techniques used today. Cary
Grant and Constance Bennett play George and Marion Kerby, two wealthy, free-wheeling
socialites killed in a car accident. They decide that they can't get to heaven unless they
do a good deed.
Cosmo Topper is the Kerby's former banker, a frustrated and
hen-pecked little man.
The Kerbys try to conserve their eckto-plasm by only being
visible when really necessary. This gets Topper into all kinds of trouble.
After drinking, Topper is arrested, to his wife's horror.
He leaves home and goes to a motel with the lady ghost to drink, dance and have fun. The
staff is spying on him, and before long the motel is a shambles, and Topper is on his way
home to his reformed wife.
This is a bright and sophisticated comedy, with a dash of
Grant's vaudeville talents thrown in. In a scene towards the end, the ghosts are talking
on the roof, and Grant's character is walking back and forth across the roof's peak
showing off his abilities as a trained acrobat! All in all, a VERY entertaining movie.
VARIETY Film Review - July 14, 1937
- by "Flin"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Technical ease with which the motion pictures can make characters
instantaneously appear and disappear from the screen, always has
tempted producers and screenwriters to delve, sometimes seriously,
sometimes humorously, into stories which invade the field of the
spiritualistic and occult. Of such were 'Earthbound,'
directed by T. Hays Hunter; 'One Glorious Day,' by James Cruze
(both silents), and two recent sound films, Noel Coward in 'The
Scoundrel,' by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and Robert Donat in
'The Ghost Goes West,' produced by Alexander Korda.
Now comes Hal Roach, heretofore
identified with obvious action comedy and, with the assistance of
Norman McLeod, as director, he has produced as weird and baffling
a tale of spiritualism as the screen ever has seen. It is
entitled 'Topper,' from a story by the late Thorne Smith. It
is carefully made, excellently photographed, and adroitly employs
mechanical illusions of cinematic composition and trick sound
How substantial the fan support
will be in terms of box office dollars is difficult to
anticipate. None of the other films of similar theme aroused
more than mild enthusiasm among a small group who patronize the
arty theatres and talk about pictures in terms of art
expression. The rank and file of theatergoers will
experience difficulty in following strange and surprising twists
of the story, and are not likely to distinguish easily the
passages of realism from the sequences of unreality.
Story is about the adventures,
among living persons, of a young married couple, George and Marion
Kerby, who are killed in an automobile smashup as the climax of a
wild night of drinking and carousing. Their astral bodies
rise from the ruins, and their conversation continues in a casual
manner as to their next objective. They agree that until
they have done some one a good deed they are likely to remain
indefinitely in a state of double exposure. Reviewing the
possibilities for charitable action, they decide that their
friend, Cosmo Topper, a hen-pecked bank president, who has lived a
dull, routine life, shall have the benefit of their assistance.
Same carefree, flippant viewpoint
on life which characterized the couple before their death
maintains throughout the subsequent series of farcical
events. Possessed with unusual power, they are able at will
to appear in the flesh, converse and move about among their
friends. Occasionally, they make known their presence by
spoken words only. All the comedy and playfulness of their
adventures results from these attributes. They engage, both
visibly and unseen, in street brawls, as drivers of speeding
automobiles, as frightening specters in hotel lobbies and
Effort to excuse the story's
absurdities on the theory that the intent is farce comedy does not
entirely excuse the production from severe rebuke. Fact also
that the living dead always are facetious may be shocking to
sensibilities. Some of the situations and dialog offend
conventional good taste.
Performances, however, are usually
good. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, as the reincarnated
Kerbys, do their assignments with great skill. Roland Young
carries the brunt of the story and does it well. In the
titel role, he is the docile, good citizen until the
transformation of his personality changes him into a dashing man
about town. Billie Burke plays the less important role of
Mrs. Topper with effect. Both Alan Mowbray, as the Toppers'
butler, and Eugene Pallette, as a hotel detective, are
splendid. Arthur Lake gets a lot of fun from a small role as
an elevator boy.
'Toper' will be talked about both
in and outside the industry. The skill with which camera and
sound effects have been accomplished sets a standard for
mechanical excellence. Settings are elaborate. But
whether word of mouth advertising will be sufficient to overcome
the obstacles which this type of story always combats is
questionable. Probably not.
NEW YORK TIMES
Film Review -
August 20, 1937
- by B.R.C.
- submitted by Barry Martin
Admittedly rather a heavy
consignment of whimsy to be shipping from the printed page to the screen,
"Topper" was unloaded at the Capitol yesterday in a condition
which, judging by the encouraging advance notices - should justify at least
a mild complaint against either the shippers or the transfer company. The
practice is to give the author the benefit of the doubt in cases where a
doubt exists, so we are going to assume that Thorne Smith's yarn about a
pair of ectoplasmic screwballs who charitably set right the henpecked,
suburban world of Cosmo Topper, by converting Cosmo to champagne and his
wife to lacy underthings, possessed all the delicious whimsy which in the
film is only a mechanically garnished dish of whimsy substitute.
We honestly regret our inability to
shout hurrah for "Topper," because everybody seems to
have tried hard to make it click: Mr. Roach, the producer; Mr.
McLeod, the director; the three screen authors, and the players,
especially the players. But whimsy is a delicate and perishable
commodity and nobody need be blamed for the slight spoilage in
transit. Certainly not Constance Bennett, who used to be expected
to do nothing more than look glamorous and haut-monde, and who
becomes in "Topper" almost as animated as Luise Rainer.
Nor Cary Grant, who is so conscientious that we feel a positive
pang when these two handsome and frivolous creatures smash their
fancy roadster against a tree and become equally handsome and
Still nonchalant, albeit
transparent as amoebas, the pair agree they must have a good deed
to their credit before the celestial trumpets sound and decide to
do something about Topper - poor old Topper - the president of a
bank - worth millions - but getting nothing out of life.
Establishing contact with Topper, who is even more eager than his
saviors, they precipitate a number of mildly amusing
double-exposure situations in which Roland Young, lately of
"The Man Who Could Work Miracles," seems peculiarly at
In fact, Mr. Young and his fellow
players are responsible for whatever success an otherwise
completely irresponsible film enjoys: Billie Burke as Mrs. Topper,
Alan Mowbray as Wilkins, Eugene Pallette as a house detective,
and, of course, the hard-working Miss Bennett and Mr. Grant.
- by Kathy Fox
TOPPER is Cary
Grant's 27th film and his only movie with Constance Bennett. Some
behind the scenes history: Originally W. C. Fields was to have played
the role of Topper and Jean Harlow was to have played Mrs. Kerby, but Harlow
became ill and passed away shortly before the film commenced. Cary was
a neighbor to Hal Roach, producer of Topper. Roach offered to give
Grant the difference to make up for a salary of $50,000.00 if the picture
was a success. Grant and Roach had their differences in the picture
because Grant was a perfectionist and Roach just kind of let things happen;
thus Grant was relieved when the picture was finished; also he was not a fan
of Constance Bennett who got top billing. Grant's Kerby was a very
popular character and Cary took some of his character's qualities and
adopted them as personal traits of his own permanent character.
Of course, years later in the fifties, the television seriesl, starring Leo
G. Carroll as Topper, and Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys as George and
Marion Kerby, was based on this movie.
Grant plays George Kerby who is married to Marion Kerby, played by Constance
Bennett. They are a young fun-loving couple who tend to drink too much
and one day, they have an accident and are killed, but they cannot get to
heaven without performing one good deed. They select Cosmo Topper, who
is a hen-pecked husband whose wife rules the roost, to help him fine-tune
his life. The Kerby's spirits come back and play havoc with Cosmo and
Mrs. Topper until one day, Cosmo is also involved in an accident at the same
place where the Kerbys had had their accident earlier, and is almost killed.
At the thought of losing her husband, Mrs. Topper realizes her domineering
ways and decides to change.
DAILY TRIBUNE Film Review - September 16, 1937
- by Mae Tinée
- submitted by Renee Klish
Miss Bennett Back
in Films as a Ghost
Constance Bennett seemed by way of
becoming just a memory. She comes back into our lives as - a
spook! - making merry with her now visible and now invisible
husband [Cary Grant] in a fantastic photoplay based on the
likewise novel of Thorne Smith.
Beware of spooks intent on doing
good deeds - or should you? The answer really doesn't
matter, but "Topper" does, in that for the most part it
is hilarious entertainment with unexpected - if screwy - angles.
Topper? Well, Mr. Topper is
the name. He is a bank president and the carefully guarded
husband of a conventional Mrs. Topper who sees to it that his life
is run by the clock. She is aided and abetted by an
indefatigable butler, and life is mousey drab for little Cosmos
The completely unconventional
Kerbys meet with the accident that turns them into busy ghosts,
who realize that in all their flighty lives they have never done a
really good deed and that they're going to be in hard luck in the
hereafter if they don't start boy scouting in a hurry . . . They
concentrate on making existence bigger and better for Mr. Topper .
The Kerbys appear and disappear at
will. They have to be saving of their ectoplasm, you learn .
. . Hotels, night clubs and private residences are thrown into
pandemonium by the sudden animation of inanimate objects, as they
resolutely work out the accomplishment of their "good
The picture is brightly acted,
directed and dialoged. It drags a bit now and then - but
only now and then - and yesterday's audiences at the Roosevelt
seemed to be enjoying it immensely.
Click here to read Jenny's Crackpot
Reviews at the Cary Grant Shrine
<< Back to Reviews | Top of Page