Saturday, February 17, 2007

TOPPER/TOPPER RETURNS (MGM 1937/Hal Roach 1941) Artisan Home Entertainment

Norman Z. McLeod’s Topper (1937) is a supernatural screwball comedy about a pair of fun-loving ghosts who wreak havoc on the life of henpecked banker, Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are the spirited spirits in question; George and Marion Kirby, a married couple who accidentally kill themselves by wrapping their car around a tree after an all-night binge.

George and Marion return as blithe spirits, determined to introduce Cosmo to the good life, much to the chagrin and confusion of Cosmo’s stuffy and hilarious bubble-headed wife, Clara (Billie Burke). All their cajoling does indeed come with a purpose – to prove to heaven that they are, in fact, capable of performing an unselfish good deed. The narrative is fresh and breezy, crackling with adroit dialogue and mischievous foreplay. Clearly, everyone in the cast is having an exceptionally good time.

Producer Hal Roach sought to capitalize on the film’s success by producing a sequel Topper Returns (1941) that has absolutely nothing to do with the original. Save Roland Young’s reprise of his dithering banker, Topper Returns concerns itself with heiress to a fortune, Ann Carrington (Carol Landis).

Suspecting that someone is plotting to murder her, Ann invites girlfriend, Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) up for the weekend. In a case of mistaken identity, Gail is murdered and her ghost returns to warn Ann that her life is in danger. Employing more savvy special effects, but with the absence of Grant and Bennett from the proceedings, Topper Returns is a decidedly darker excursion, focused more on chills than laughs.

Artisan’s DVD transfers are, in short, abysmal. Topper – originally made at MGM is a title currently in public domain and very much worse for the wear. Exhibiting a harshly contrasted image obviously derived from second or possibly even third generation prints, there’s virtually nothing to recommend the quality of this transfer. Whites are blooming. Blacks are always more gray than black. The image is highly unstable with a barrage of digital artifacts making it a very grainy dirty and uninspired mess. The audio is mono and exhibits a very dated characteristic with background hiss. Though Topper Returns fares slightly better – all of the aforementioned shortcomings apply. This 2 disc set is therefore NOT recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Topper 4
Topper Returns 3.5

Topper 2
Topper Returns 2.5


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