Combustible Celluloid
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With: Constance Bennett, Cary Grant, Roland Young, Billie Burke, Alan Mowbray, Eugene Pallette, Arthur Lake, Hedda Hopper, Virginia Sale
Written by: Jack Jevne, Eric Hatch, Eddie Moran, based on a novel by Thorne Smith
Directed by: Norman Z. McLeod
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 97
Date: 07/16/1937

Topper (1937)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Norman Z. McLeod's Topper was widely available to me as a young film buff -- it was always on VHS and laserdisc, and even in a colorized version -- but I never caught up with it until now, in its 2017 VCI Entertainment Blu-ray release. It's about as lightweight as a movie can get, and not exactly tightly-constructed, but still very enjoyable.

Cary Grant and Constance Bennett star as George and Marion Kerby, a rich and irresponsible couple; when we first meet them, it's early morning and they have been partying all night, and are now driving into New York for a meeting. George is perched atop his seat and steering with his feet. The meeting is with banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), who is stuck with a life-sucking, controlling wife, Clara (Billie Burke), and lives a pretty boring life. After the meeting, George and Marion die (!) in a car crash and appear as ghosts.

They can disappear -- and must disappear from time to time to conserve their "ectoplasm" -- but otherwise they can touch things and eat and drink and do everything that living people can do. There are no real rules for death here. They decide that they need to do a good deed and set out to bring Topper back to life. But to accomplish this, Marion simply flirts with him and gets him to run off with her. (Sorry Cary Grant fans, this is not one of his most prominent roles.)

McLeod had already made movies with W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, and had a knack for rambunctious comedy. Treating death and marriage vows exceedingly lightly, Topper was a huge hit, and there were sequels, a TV series, and remakes. Young received an Oscar nomination (!) for Best Supporting Actor and the film received a second nomination for its sound recording. VCI's Blu-ray looks surprisingly crisp, and includes a trailer.

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