21 June 2008

Topper (1937)

Topper (1937) chronicles the postmortem adventures and misadventures of George and Marian Kerby (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, respectively) as they attempt to inject a healthy dose of liveliness into the humdrum life of banker Cosmo Topper (played by Roland Young). It is a film that is widely loved by old movie fans, and understandably so--it's downright charming throughout.

Cosmo Topper is a banker who lives a bland and boring life, which centers around a boring routine proscribed by his wife (played by Billie Burke). It is a stark contrast to the freewheeling lifestyle led by the Kerbys, who drink hard, drive fast and sleep comfortably under the stars in their mammoth customized 1936 Buick Roadmaster. However, the two take the old adage of living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse to heart, as George's reckless driving winds up killing the happy couple in a crash.

George and Marian soon come to the realization that they are deceased, but deduce that they must do a good deed in order to earn a trip to the great gig in the sky. They determine that their good deed ought to be helping Topper (whom Marian affectionately names "Toppy") learn how to enjoy life. Hilarity, of course, ensues.

As the Kerbys are phantoms, they are capable of becoming invisible at will. As a result, they are capable of wreaking havoc undetected--the source of much of the film's comedy. Cary Grant and Constance Bennet are rather charming, and are a pleasure to watch--Cary Grant, lady killer that he is, drives with his feet in the opening scene of the film, and Constance Bennet vamps it up with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and to great effect. Roland Young does a great job as the stuffy banker, and serves as a great foil for the Kerbys.

One of my favorite details of the movie, however, has to be the Buick. Truly the land-yacht of land-yachts, this immense beast of an automobile looks as though it could take a round from a Panzerfaust and remain unscratched (it is, after all, a relic from the days when American car manufacturers were still making good cars!). Should I ever become a millionaire with dollars to burn, you can rest assured that I'd get that car, if only for the novelty of it all.

Like many classic comedies, Topper has withstood the test of time. The forthcoming remake won't have a quarter of the charm that the 1937 original has.

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