1937, Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
From the Novel by Thorne Smith
VCI Blu-ray, $20.99
97 min. / B&W / 1.37:1 / English Subtitles

VCI's release of Hal Roach features and shorts, which began brilliantly with the Blu-ray of One Million B.C. (see our review elsewhere in the Balcony), continues with the film that was arguably Roach's most popular and most famous film to not star Laurel & Hardy. Topper was based on an hilarious book by Thorne Smith, about a staid middle-aged banker going through mid-life crisis (he's sick of his wife and her leg of lamb); on the spur of the moment, he purchases a rebuilt roadster in which a wild young couple, George and Marion Kerby, were killed after a drunken party and an argument with a tree. He should've stayed far away from either the car or the tree, 'cause the Kerbys are back, haunting him and in their way teaching the old boy to lighten up and have some fun. He takes off with Marion and they have fun drinking and partying until they meet another couple, who also happen to be dead, and their just-as-dead dog, who can't decide whether to be visible or not. Eventually, a jealous George returns but death, as it turns out, is as fleeting as life, and everyone but Topper begins to lose their ectoplasm.

It's a wonderful book, very funny, and sentimental at the end. "Too much virtue will sour the sweetest character," Marion warns Cosmo as she exits.

Which brings us to the film, which had to be cleaned up in the Production Code era, but is still very funny. In this adaptation, a wild young couple kill themselves in a car crash and haunt Topper, whom they know and rather like. He's a bored banker who very much resents their intervention, while his wife grows to enjoy the notoriety of having a husband known as the town weirdo. The Kerbys and Topper check into a hotel and draw the attention of various staff members until Topper learns not to be boring and his wife learns to appreciate him. The Kerbys can then go haunt someone else.

Great cast, Cary Grant and Constance Bennett (at their loveliest) as the Kerbys, Oscar nominee Roland Young as Topper, Billie Burke, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, and Arthur Lake. Alan Mowbray is a misfire as a comic butler, though. Because this is a Hal Roach production, there's a lot of great music you'll recognize from Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang films.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Bellboy at the haunted hotel: "I decided I'm going to go out and get a nice, quiet job at the nut factory."

Roach produced two sequels, one with everybody back except the expensive Mr. Grant and one with Joan Blondell as the new ghost haunting Roland Young, and then a fondly-remembered TV series that ran for two seasons in the mid-1950s.

The new Blu-ray falls somewhat short of the perfection shown on One Million B.C.; no doubt the materials they had to work with weren't quite as good. The lack of bonus material is rather disappointing, too - why not at least include clips from the two sequels, said to be released by VCI (on DVD only) shortly? In any case, Topper is one of the 1930s most lauded comedy classics, and the Blu-ray is most welcome and appreciated. Keep the Hal Roach library comin', VCI!