Review: ‘Topper Returns’

This is the third feature film which Hal Roach has produced from the strikingly original ideas and characters conceived by Thorne Smith in his use of astral bodies to motivate the hilarious and nonsensical actions of living persons. Roland Young again appears as Topper, the mild-mannered suburbanite whose quiet way of life is rudely upset by his strange affinity for spirits that lead him into weird complications. Billie Burke is his flighty wife, and the newcomers are Joan Blondell and Carole Landis.

This is the third feature film which Hal Roach has produced from the strikingly original ideas and characters conceived by Thorne Smith in his use of astral bodies to motivate the hilarious and nonsensical actions of living persons. Roland Young again appears as Topper, the mild-mannered suburbanite whose quiet way of life is rudely upset by his strange affinity for spirits that lead him into weird complications. Billie Burke is his flighty wife, and the newcomers are Joan Blondell and Carole Landis.

This time the innocent Young is dragged into the midst of a murder mystery, in the solving of which he has able and amusing assistance from Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, who just about steals the picture from the other players.

Blondell is murdered by a hooded mysterious character, having been mistaken for her friend, the blonde Landis. Thereupon, Blondell, in shadowy form, appeals to Young for aid in capturing the villain and saving the life of the intended victim. Film begins to miss out when the story veers from its own premise to the level of a conventional mystery farce. Direction by Roy Del Ruth is uneven and lacking in improvisations.

Topper Returns

Production

Roach/United Artists. Director Roy Del Ruth; Producer Hal Roach; Screenplay Jonathan Latimer, Gordon Douglas, Paul Gerard Smith; Camera Norbert Brodine; Editor James Newcom; Music Werner R. Heymann; Art Director Nicolai Remisoff

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1941. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Joan Blondell Roland Young Carole Landis Billie Burke Dennis O'Keefe Patsy Kelly
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  1. Stephen Gross says:

    This flm was a VHS left in a reading room in a hospital cafeteria where books usually are left.”Take one,Leave one” I took it home expecting the laughs of the original Topper or something of the genius of Noel Coward;s Blithe Spirit. What a waste of talent! The black character known as the wise and witty valet of Jack Benny is the stereotyped shivering bugeyed Negro afraid of ghosts.The death of the cheeky young girl is handled in bad taste.The conversion to a mystery is joltingly artificial. The talented character actors drag along with dreadul lines. What a great example of the Son of Delightful film as the Miscarried Dead Fetus. The power of Topper to see ghosts was not clearly shown and his relation to the spooky mansion was artificial. Joan Blondell was so cute and perky but the murder of a sweet girl just hovered over the comedy without the delicate handling necessary to make it work. Some of the cliches are here, the dour hosuekeeper carrying the candelabra, boobytrapped seats, secret rotating bookcases.The humiliating scenes of the black man being pushed into to the water by a seal went on too long and I could imagine the audienes in the Deep South enjoying the nigger in the woodpile stereotype which the actor prostituted himself and his comedic talent for a buck. Billy Burke is wonderful in her wacky upperclass way.The love interest of the taxidriver with the beautiful Carol Landis heiress to an obvious huge fortune had no foundation of interest on the heiress’ part in the handsome but paper cut out character. The ending where the ghost of the murdered girl meets the ghost of the murderer who gets his comeuppance in an auto accident has a shallow sense of irony that wastes a possible place for good dialogue. I suppose the film buff can learn from the disastrous failures where the talent is provided in the actors, the cinematography of the ghost scenes, but it is the same in the art of painting. You can have the best color, the best brushstrokes, the finest realistic trompe l’oeuil, but if the composition of the painting is faulty, it fails. Here the screenwriting was a disaaster.

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