Topper Returns (1941)

Gail (Joan Blondell) and Ann (Carole Landis) are in a car wreck one day on their way to the home of Ann’s estranged father. They’re nearly stranded, but luckily, Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) and his chauffeur happen to pass by.

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(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Topper rescues the girls and drops them at the Carrington mansion, though it looks practically deserted. There’s an eerie aura about the place, but they’re eventually welcomed in by Mr. Carrington (H. B. Warner).

Perhaps they should have run when they had the chance, because that night, Gail is killed by a mysterious intruder. Taking the form of a ghost, she decides to pay a visit to Cosmo Topper and ask for his help in solving her murder.

“I’ve had enough with your kind of people!,” Topper tells ghostly Gail when she first appears to him. But he eventually, reluctantly agrees to crack the case.

Topper Returns was directed by Roy Del Ruth.

Topper Returns is the third film in the Topper series. Topper (1937) is one of my all-time favorite comedies. I still haven’t seen the second film in the series, Topper Takes a Trip. I’ve been hesitant to watch the sequels since I do love the original so much, but shirking my usual pattern of watching things in order, I decided to tune in for Topper Returns when it hit WatchTCM in February.

This film has very little connection to the original Topper outside of the title character, Roland Young’s “Cosmo.” The delight of watching Joan Blondell in the ghostly lead role, however, makes up for missing the Cary Grant/Constance Bennett pairing from the first film.

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Joan Blondell as Gail, just before being murdered in the spooky Carrington mansion. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Blondell’s character is lively when alive, when in ghost form, and when disappearing into only a voice. The actress’ performance is wonderful. The supporting cast is a lot of fun, too, including Carole Landis, Billie Burke (as Topper’s wife), and Patsy Kelly.

Roy Del Ruth handles the series’ turn from screwball comedy to mystery-comedy splendidly, delivering hints of suspense and plenty of laughs.

Along with the director’s efforts, the script is nice, with some witty dialogue and odd scenarios successfully mined for comedy. One of my favorites has Cosmo Topper hiding in the icebox.

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Carole Landis and Joan Blondell as Ann and Gail, arriving at the Carrington place. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The special effects and design add another layer of fun. Blondell’s clothes move on their own in one scene, as her invisible ghost self “gets dressed.” In another scene, a gun floats through the air after ghost Gail steals it from an investigator’s pocket and gives it to Topper. As for the killer, he wears a cape and dresses completely in black, almost seeming to be of a different time.

Topper Returns is not as great as Topper, but offers a highly enjoyable change of pace, with our old pal Cosmo going from boring banker to amateur sleuth. With the exception of a few moments of disappointment from seeing Eddie Anderson pigeon-holed into a stereotypical “spook” role, I had a lot of fun with this one.

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3 thoughts on “Topper Returns (1941)

  1. I liked this movie a lot, too, when I saw it a while back — as you say, Blondell is marvelous here (as always): the movie would be worth watching if for no other reason.

    I shared your qualms about the stereotyping in Eddie Anderson’s role. On the other hand, that was his act elsewhere, so I guess it’s hard to quibble with it being rendered here.

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    • Yeah, can’t really fault this film in particular for it. It’s certainly not the only “guilty” film in Eddie’s filmography, or in old Hollywood in general. I tend to make brief mention of roles like this whenever I come across them, not to try to persuade people to avoid the films, but simply because it always bums me out to be reminded of how much talent was held back.

      Otherwise, ‘Topper Returns’ is a whole lot of fun, definitely one I’ll watch again!

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      • I tend to make brief mention of roles like this whenever I come across them

        Same here. It’s also cheering to remember that actors like Alexander and the great Mantan Moreland were earning a lot more than nearly all of the morons to whom they were having to pander with the stereotypes.

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