Topper Returns

Year 1941

Roland Young as  Cosmo Topper
Joan Blondell as Gail Richards
Carole Landis as Ann Carrington
Billie Burke as Clara Topper
Eddie "Rochester" Anderson   as The Chauffeur
George Zucco as Dr. Jeris
Patsy Kelly as Emily, the Maid
Director - Roy Del Ruth
Screenwriters - Gordon M. Douglas  
  - Jonathan Latimer
  - Paul Gerard Smith

What madcap fun! Whee! Or at least that's what was planned. Like most things, the planning and the execution bear a passing resemblance at best.

This movie has a number of things to recommend it. For example, the first movie about Cosmo Topper was funny. Secondly, the second movie wasn't too bad, either. Thirdly, Joan Blondell was considered attractive. Fourthly, Rochester's in it. Fifthly, as much as I didn't care for the insipid Fog Island, I did like George Zucco and he's in this one, too.

If you're not familiar with Cosmo Topper, here's a crash course. Cosmo is a slip of man who is also a wealthy banker. (Think Mr. Moneybags in the game Monopoly.) What sets Cosmo apart from other men is that he can see ghosts. In fact, they count on him to help them put their spirits to rest.

The whole "Topper" concept was very lucrative and spawned sequels and even a television series starring Leo G. Carroll as the eponymous one. If you don't know Leo G. Carroll, he was Alexander Waverly in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If you don't know The Man from U.N.C.L.E., get thee to The Smithsonian or TV Land or something.

So, what's the plot? Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) is sought out by the recently now-you-see-her-now-you-don't Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) to help her find her murderer. It's obvious that she was not the intended victim.

Cosmo, for his part, finds ghosts a nuisance and just wants to be left alone. Through crude intimidation, she coerces him, and collaterally his chauffer (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) to help.

If you've not heard of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, then you're missing out on one of the most distinctive radio personalities ever. Once you hear his raspy voice calling out, "Comin', Mister Benny," (as in Jack Benny) you'll never forget it.

In this movie, Rochester is in a fair number of scenes mugging for the camera, taking pratfals, and acting exasperated as only Rochester could. He's fun to watch and listen to for the most part.

There's the mandatory "in joke" uttered by Rochester at one point.
Rochester: Doors opening by themselves. People talkin' to nuthin' and gettin' answers. I'm going back.
Mrs. Topper: Back where?
Rochester: To Mr. Benny. Ain't nothin' like this ever happened there.

I can't recall the exact Jack Benny episodes, but I think things like this did happened on more than one occasion with Mr. Benny as well, hence the humor. The credits indicate that it took three screenwriters came up with this bit of wit.

Then there's Joan Blondell. I remember her as playing at being a siren for more years than she should have. Even when I was young I never understood how a stout woman like her was considered attractive. Plus her beauty mark (can't you cover that thing?) always put me off. Imagine my surprise when I saw an old movie with her in it and she was attractive in a wonderfully curvaceous manner. This movie falls into the space between her earlier movies' youth and her later movies' passed by youth. The conductor at the station is shouting, "All aboard! Next stop - Over the Hill!"

I imagine that she's supposed to be "saucy" but she comes off as coarse and mean instead. Here's an example.

After nearly being killed by a falling chandelier (yes, really, that old cliché), Ann Carrington (Carole Landis) is busy gathering her wits while Gail summarizes, "Close? Six more inches and we'd all be singing 'Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore'." Really? Three writers and that's their best line?

There are many low ways to get a laugh. Race and religion are two. Those who are a little too tightly wrapped might think that some of Rochester's mannerisms fall into the first category. To those people, I say, "Have you seen Cary Grant in 'Arsenic and Old Lace'? Eddie doesn't have a patch on old Cary when it comes to mugging for the camera."

Another low laugh is drunkeness. In one scene, after two glasses of wine, the invisible Gail passes out and needs to be revived by Cosmo. I'm not sure why this scene and the alcohol were needed. First, it's not convincing. I get the feeling that Joan Blondell could have matched The Duke (John Wayne?) drink for drink. Second, it's not very funny. I guess special effects like cushions being depressed by an invisible mass are being showcased. But, the end result is that Joan Blondell gets saddled with more unfunny props and lines.

Patsy Kelly as the coarse featured maid brings her own brand of sarcasm to her scenes and her delivery is natural, as opposed to Blondell's forced deliveries, so Kelly is funny.

But the real scene stealer is Mrs. Topper (Billie Burke). Gracie Allen had nothing on Billie Burke. Gracie Allen? Of Burns and Allen? George Burns' partner? The ditzy brunette? The Queen of the Dense? The artiste of the non-sequeter? Well, she's got nothing on Billie Burke.

As the insulated wife of Cosmo Topper, Mrs. Topper spends her time losing touch with every day things like life. Her outlook is intended to be that of a vapid, self-centered, naif.

Here is an example. She's looking for Cosmo and been told that he hasn't left the house. "Well, he won't until I've found him and given him a piece of my mind. Do you mind?" Okay. Not the best example.

How about this one.

When she's on the telephone reporting a missing husband, the detective she is talking to wants to know what Cosmo looks like.
Mrs Topper: Like a banker. Of course that's because he is a banker.
Detective: Can you describe him?
Mrs. Topper: Well, he wears a size fifteen shirt with a thirty-three sleeve.

During the same telephone call, she also slips in the fact that there's been a murder.
Detective: Murder?
Mrs. Topper: Yes, murder. M-U-R-D-E-R?
She promptly slams the phone down on the cradle.
Mrs. Topper: Getting these policemen to understand something is harder than doing it yourself.

Maybe not thigh slapping funny, but it turned up the corners of my mouth.

Finally, for Mrs. Topper, there's the coup de grace. She and a police officer are looking for Cosmo.
Mrs. Topper: I'm so nervous I could scream. In fact, I think I will.
She does and her face lights up like a child's.
Mrs. Topper: That's fun, isn't it?"
So she screams again. Obviously delighted, she addresses the police officer next to her.
Mrs. Topper: Come on, let's do it together.

The problem is that the movie doesn't have the chemistry or the brisk pacing that made the original Topper so successful.

It's not bad, but it is the sequel of a sequel and you know how those work out.

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