“TOPPER RETURNS’— A Comedy Thriller from 1941


“Topper Returns “

A Comedy Thriller from 1941

Amos Lassen

Director Roy Del Ruth’s 1941 black and white “Topper Returns” is based on the characters created by Thorne Smith and is the third and final entry in the series of films that began with the 1937 fantasy comedy,“Topper”. 

“Topper Returns” is a wonderfully written, carefully handled, tip-top comedy thriller spoofing the haunted old dark house kind of movie that was in vogue when the film was made. It has an excellent perfect support acting that includes Billie Burke as Mrs. Topper, Carole Landis as Ann Carrington and Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson as the chauffeur.

Topper is bothered by a ghost— the American friend to the heir of a fortune who was murdered by mistake. She wants Topper to help solve her murder. This is the story of an old dark house and is a murder mystery, complete with suspicious characters and a scared black chauffeur; Eddie “Rochester” Anderson who does his best with the latter. The humor here is over-the-top and predictable; Eddie Anderson being scared of the ghost, recycled humor from the first two movies in the series, slapstick antics, a stupid cop and a sarcastic cab driver. It’s somewhat hit and miss, but it does have a great cast. When Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) visits her friend Ann Carrington (Carole Landis) for the weekend, she has no idea just how weird things are going to get.  First off, while Gail and Ann are riding in a taxi to the big and foreboding Carrington mansion, a mysterious man in black shoots out the taxi’s tires.  Though the taxi crashes, both Gail and Ann survive and are able to hitch a ride from Ann’s neighbor, Cosmo Topper.

Once they get to the mansion, Gail meets Ann’s strange family.  Gail loves the mansion and who wouldn’t, seeing as how it is big and dark and full of secret passageways?  But Gail makes the big mistake of switching beds with Ann.  Later that night, when that man in black sneaks the bedroom and attempts to stab Ann to death, he ends up killing Gail instead.  When we next see Gail, she’s a ghost who can’t leave our world until her murder has been solved!  Gail isn’t that upset about being a ghost.  In fact,  she seems to be rather amused by it all.  She floats right over to Topper’s house and demands that he come over and solve her murder.  After some initial reluctance, Topper agrees and sneaks into the Carrington mansion and gets to work searching for clues and attempting to solve the crime.  Needless to say, it involves a lot of family secrets, hidden rooms, and dark passageways.

Joan Blondell seems to be having fun in the role of Gail. The film has a nicely morbid streak and towards the end of the film, there’s a cheerful conversation between Gail and another ghost.  It’s  great fun.

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