Just when I think I'm going to chuck it all in and blow up my cable subscription, Turner Classic Movies sucks me right back in. They have a mobile app, you see, that allows you not only to watch their programming live, but also to catch up on the films you missed. Which is why last night in front of a roaring fire, my sweetheart and I watched Topper on a 9.7" tablet screen balanced on a pillow, sharing a set of ear buds -- as in the good old days, when you could split a malt at Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe and television was still free.
The film opens on thirtysomething, one-percenter couple, George and Marion Kerby (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), drunkenly speeding through the Long Island countryside in the Most Awesome Car Ever. George has a trustees meeting with his banker in New York in the morning, so the two have left a party in full swing at their house to get to the appointment on time.
George doodles his way through the shareholder's meeting, while Marion sleeps in their car, illegally parked outside the bank. Kerby's banker is Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), who, for a powerful bank executive, is pretty easily and regularly pushed around by his manservant (Alan Mowbray) and his wife (Billie Burke). Topper's life is regimented to the second, so he is both thrilled and envious of the Kerby's carefree ways. When Marion awakens, bored, she glides into the bank, charms Mr. Topper, grabs George and the two head out for more partying.
While speeding home, George loses control of the car on a sharp turn and crashes, killing both him and Marion. Their ghosts get up, assess the situation, and realize that they haven't led particularly productive lives -- they haven't hurt anyone, but they haven't helped anyone either. So they decide to "help" Topper to put a deed in the plus column and maybe move on.
Topper, in a fit of independence, has purchased the Kerby's sportscar, newly repaired and groovy again, over the objections of his wife and manservant. On his first midlife test drive, he takes the same fatal turn as the Kerbys' and wipes out. While unconscious, his spirit walks around and runs into his two ghost friends, who proceed to plague/help him for the rest of the picture.
The ghosts can materialize every so often, but it takes a lot of energy. This allows for a lot of good scenes where tires change themselves, drunken Toppers get "carried" around hotel lobbies, and so forth. It's a Hal Roach picture after all, but without so much pie. Marion materializes in some uncomfortable places for Topper, which allows hotel detective Eugene Palette and elevator-operator-bell-hop Arthur Lake to do some creative blundering.
All good clean fun and a great way to spend time with Roland Young, who turns out to be a pretty fine physical comedian. Constance Bennett is charming and Cary Grant can drive with his feet.
The Real Star of the Picture