Saturday, July 25, 2009


TCM is showing the delightful comedy Topper tomorrow at 10:30 AM ET.

Cary Grant and Constance Bennett star as married couple George and Marion Kirby. They've invested and done well for themselves, as their investments have allowed them to live a life of leisure, spending it carousing as much as they want -- which is a lot. However, they do have a few duties, such as sitting in on a board meeting of a bank managed by Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Everything changes for them, though, when they're driving back from the bank meeting. George is unable to negotiate a curve in his roadster, and the car flies off the road, hitting a tree and killing our two leads. Fortunately, though, that's not the end of the movie. The two find out that they still "exist", such as it is, as ghosts, and in order to get into heaven, they want to perform a good deed.

And they know just the right person for whom to perform that good deed: the aforementioned Cosmo Topper. He's a pillar of society, largely because he's been hen-pecked into that place by his extremely status-conscious wife, played by Billie Burke, who's just as dotty and obsessive here as she was in Dinner at Eight. Our ghostly heroes decide that they're going to show Cosmo how to live a little, and damn what his wife has to say about it.

The movie is full of sight gags, which of course depend upon the premise that nobody in the cast realizes that Cosmo is being assisted by a pair of ghosts. True, it's fairly standard stuff, but here, it's all done exceedingly well, including the special effects which, despite being 70 years old, don't look all that primitive. It certainly helps to have such a fine cast. There's also Alan Mowbray, who made a living playing put-upon butlers on screen, as he does here; Hedda Hopper in a brief role; future movie Dagwood Bumstead Arthur Lake, as a hotel elevator boy; and Eugene Pallette as the hotel's house detective.

Topper was enough of a success that it's been often imitated, but never duplicated. The original cast, minus Cary Grant, returned to make two more movies; it became a TV series in the 1950s; and there are even plans for another remake to be released in 2010.

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