Charming Ghost Comedy TOPPER (1937) is Back Among the Living

An underseen gem now on Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment!

Two freewheeling ghosts haunt a henpecked businessman and to loosen up his conservative rigidity, as well as his even more uptight wife. The synopsis sounds like the plot of some lost 80s Steve Martin comedy, but it’s actually that of 1937’s Topper.

Cary Grant and Constance Bennett play George and Marion Kerby, a wealthy, hard-partying couple who amuse themselves to death when a speeding George drunkenly misses a turn and careens into a tree. They immediately discover they are ghosts, finding that they have powers of full or partial apparition, limited by their available store of ectoplasm.

In life, George had business dealings with one Cosmo Topper, a boring middle-aged gentleman whose life is defined by mundanity and the nagging of an overbearing wife who treats him more like a naughty child than her husband.

Party girl Marion takes it upon herself to inject some adventure into Topper’s life, playfully haunting him and giving the appearance that he’s having an affair with a younger woman, and in doing so raising the man’s reputation in the eyes of his peers and causing his wife to reconsider whether her constant griping has caused him to wander. Interestingly, the film’s comedic sexual politics feel both dated and ahead of their time.

While Cary Grant is certainly the most famous star in the film, its other two leads are the more prominent characters. Roland Young (who looks a bit like a diminutive Bruce Willis) deserves accolades for his role as the title character. Because his ghostly costars are usually invisible, he puts on an incredibly physical performance reacting to them, including a sequence in which he’s barely conscious and the unseen ghosts “carry” him through a lobby full of confused onlookers. It plays great and I have to imagine it had audiences falling out of their seats in 1937.

Due to natural cultural shifts, most older comedies have a tendency to feel more amusing or trite than outright hilarious, but that wasn’t the case at all for me with Topper. I laughed out loud several times during this very charming and enjoyable romp.

The Package

Topper is available now on Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment and MVDvisual.

The image has a good sense of clarity, though the picture gets a bit noisy — not film grain, but what seems to be digital halo effect that‘s concentrated around movements on the screen. In play it’s not very distracting though, and unlikely to tarnish your enjoyment of the wonderful film (or even register with a typical viewer). Aside from that minor caveat, I think this movie looks great considering it age and relative obscurity. The disc features a mono soundtrack, which is assumed for a movie of this vintage, and English subtitles, which are not (thanks!).

A demonstration of the noisy halo effect; as a still it’s easier to see, but in motion it’s not very noticeable.

Special Features and Extras

Theatrical Trailer (3:05)

Parting Thoughts

Though not as well-known today, Topper was actually succeeded by a pair of sequels and even a TV series.

In a landscape where all the wrong movies seem to get remakes, this lesser-known gem remains a lot of fun, and strikes me as one movie that could actually benefit from a modernized treatment.

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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