June 29, 2005

Topper (1937)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Stars: Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Roland Young

What it's about. Party favorites Cary Grant and his flirtatious wife Constance Bennett get themselves killed in an auto accident. Stuck in Earthly purgatory as see me now, see me not ghosts, they decide to liven up the life of henpecked banker Roland Young, hoping that this alleged good deed will promote them to Heaven. Hoagy Carmichael shows up to sing his own "Old Man Moon," and he's welcome to show up anytime.

How others will see it. This Cary Grant comedy is low on Cary, and has a double helping of Roland Young, who is so repressed that even his servant orders him around. Billie Burke plays Young's weirdly controlling spouse. Frog-voiced Eugene Pallette is a hotel detective, made to look foolish by the madcap friendly ghosts.

The story doesn't make any sense, aside from the fact that anyone who steers a car with their feet is bound to be a bad insurance risk. Well, that, and Young prefers Constance Bennett to Billie Burke, even after Bennett's husband nearly kills him in yet another example of lousy driving.

The audience, again composed mostly of classic movie fans, should enjoy the film considerably, and will not care whether Burke can successfully become the fun-loving housewife, or whether Roland Young will leave her again anyway to look for another fun-loving young woman. Silliness from Cary Grant is tops on the pleasure parade, but it's all enjoyable, except perhaps for Burke's strange butler, who enjoys surprising his master in the shower, and whispers odd nothings into Billie Burke's ear.

How I felt about it. The real question is, why does Constance Bennett enjoy flirting so much with Topper. Of course, he is wealthy, and because he's polite and frumpy, he's not likely to hurt her feelings. Still, when she waves her legs at him, or tries to get him drunk, it seems she prefers old Topper to her own husband, the seemingly perfect (and much more fun) Cary Grant. There's no explaining a woman, or a man for that matter, but as long as you're not in a car with Cary Grant, there's no harm done, and we can all have a laugh.

Will milquetoast Roland Young, as the lucky recepient of the Grant and Bennett seminar on how to have fun, continue to be a new man after his ghostly patrons have abandoned him? Social doors are open to him, as a well publicized party animal. And his wife agrees to be more tolerant and tolerable. But will the old ways creep back in? Will he return to his status as a stuffy banker? Where else is there to go?

So, what does Topper have to say? That death means you can make yourself invisible? That the ticket to heaven is to get your friends in trouble? No, Topper is about having fun regardless of circumstance. A good idea, but don't let Cary Grant drive you home.