Topper (film)

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Topper
Topper Lobby Card.jpg
Lobby card
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Produced by Hal Roach
Screenplay by Jack Jevne
Eric Hatch
Eddie Moran
Starring Constance Bennett
Cary Grant
Roland Young
Music by Marvin Hatly
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Editing by William H. Terhune
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • July 16, 1937 (1937-07-16) (US)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $500,000 (proposed)[1]

Topper (1937) is an American comedy film starring Constance Bennett and Cary Grant which tells the story of a stuffy, stuck-in-his-ways man, Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) who is haunted by the ghosts of a fun-loving married couple.

The film was adapted by Eric Hatch, Jack Jevne and Eddie Moran from the novel by Thorne Smith. The movie was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, produced by Hal Roach, and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The supporting cast includes Roland Young, Billie Burke, and Eugene Pallette. Topper was a huge hit with film audiences in the summer of 1937; since Cary Grant had a percentage deal on the film, he made quite a bit of money on the film's success.

Topper was followed by the sequels Topper Takes a Trip (1938)[2] and Topper Returns (1941).[3] There was a television series,[4] which premiered in 1953 and ran for two seasons, starring Leo G. Carroll, Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys. In 1973, a television pilot for a proposed new series Topper Returns (1973)[5] was produced, starring Roddy McDowall, Stefanie Powers and John Fink. A TV movie remake, Topper (1979)[6] was also produced starring Kate Jackson, Jack Warden and Andrew Stevens. Nearly Departed, a short-lived American TV series of the 1980s starring Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, was based on the same premise.

In 1985, Topper was one of the first black-and-white films to be re-released in a colorized version, produced by Hal Roach Studios and Colorization Inc.[1]

Plot[edit]

George (Cary Grant) and Marion (Constance Bennett) Kerby are as rich as they are irresponsible. When George wrecks their classy sports car, they wake up from the accident as ghosts. Realizing they aren’t in heaven or hell because they’ve never been responsible enough to do good deeds or bad ones, they decide that freeing their old friend Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) from his regimented lifestyle will be their ticket into heaven.

Topper, a wealthy Wall Street banker, is trapped in a boring job. Worse still, Clara (Billie Burke), his social-climbing wife, seems to care only about nagging him and presenting a respectable façade. On a whim, after George and Marion die, Topper buys George’s flashy sports car. Soon he meets the ghosts of his dead friends, and immediately they begin to liven up his dull life with drinking and dancing, flirting and fun.

The escapades lead quickly to Cosmo’s arrest, and the ensuing scandal alienates his wife Clara. When Cosmo moves out, however, she fears she has lost him forever. Her loyal butler suggests that she lighten up a bit; she decides he’s right and dons the lingerie and other attire of “a forward woman.” After Cosmo has a near-death experience and nearly joins George and Marion in the afterlife, Cosmo and Clara are happily reunited, and George and Marion, their good deed done, gladly depart for heaven.

Cast[edit]

Cast notes
  • Songwriter and pianist Hoagy Carmichael makes an uncredited cameo appearance, early in the film, as the piano player in the sequence where George and Marion are on the town the night before the meeting at the bank. He introduces the song "Old Man Moon", which is sung by Grant and Bennett (It's also sung later by Three Hits and a Miss).[7] It was Carmichael's screen debut.[7] As the couple leave the bar, George (Grant) says, "(Good)night Hoagy!", and Carmichael replies "So long, see ya next time."

Production[edit]

After a long career producing comedy shorts, producer Hal Roach was looking to expand into long-form films, and found a property in The Jovial Ghosts, a semi-risqué 1926 novel by Thorne Smith. Roach immediately wanted Cary Grant to play George Kerby, but he had difficulty getting the actor to agree to play the part, since Grant was concerned about the supernatural aspects of the story. Assurance from Roach that the screwball aspects of the story would be played up – plus a fee of $50,000 – were sufficient to convince Grant to do the film.[8]

For Grant's opposite number, Roach was interested in Jean Harlow, and as Topper W. C. Fields, but Harlow was too ill, and Fields turned down the offer. When Roach reached out to Constance Bennett, she was impressed enough with the property that she agreed to be paid less than her usual $40,000 fee.[8]

Topper was shot at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City,[9] and location shooting took place at the entrance to the Bullock's department store on Wilshire Boulevard – as the entrance to the "Seabreeze Hotel"[1] – and at a location on San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena, California.[9]

The Kerbys' car[edit]

Curiously, one of the most debated aspects of the film is the car that the Kerbys drove.[citation needed] Speculation has ranged from a modified Cord or Auburn to a completely custom built automobile of no distinct make. However, the car was in fact a re-bodied 1936 Buick Series 80 Roadmaster.[citation needed] Built solely for use in the film, it was later sold and used as an advertising vehicle for the Gilmore Oil Company, complete with a matching trailer that housed the sound equipment. Later acquired by General Petroleum, the car was re-styled in 1948 with less than appealing[original research?] results.[citation needed] As the Buick chassis aged and needed replacement, the car was overhauled in 1954 using a Chrysler Newport. Its current and final form is completely different than the original car; only the massive center dorsal fin on the tail recalls the first design.[citation needed]

Reception[edit]

Topper was a box-office hit, and gave a boost to the careers of all the lead actors, in particular Cary Grant, who moved from this film into a series of classic screwball comedies such as The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Holiday (1938).[10] Constance Bennett – who has previously been known as more of a "clothes-horse" than an actress – received very good notices, and Roach reunited her with director McLeod and screenwriters Jevne and Moran – was well as Billie Burke and Alan Mowbray – for 1938's Merrily We Live.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

Topper was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Roland Young – his only nomination – and Best Sound, Recording for Elmer A. Raguse.[11]

American Film Institute Lists

References[edit]

External links[edit]