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Topper Returns (1941) was the third and final entry in the Topper film franchise. The series of ghostly comedies kicked off with Topper (1937), which starred Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as freewheeling marrieds George and Marion Kerby. After a car accident leaves them stuck between two worlds, the Kerbys set out to win their eternal reward by doing a good deed – loosening up (i.e., wreaking havoc in the life of) stuffy banker Cosmo Topper. Roland Young starred as Topper and Billie Burke played his wife Mrs. Topper. A sequel, Topper Takes a Trip, followed in 1938. The principal cast returned, with one exception – Cary Grant. George Kerby, it seems, had earned his spot in heaven. Marion Kerby hoped to do the same in Topper Takes a Trip by reuniting the feuding Toppers.
Topper Returns was a departure from the first two films in the series. Constance Bennett was now absent as well – so neither of the central Kerby characters remained. Taking their spirit-world place was Joan Blondell. The film had a new director too – Roy Del Ruth. Topper and Topper Takes a Trip had been directed by Norman Z. McLeod. The plot of Topper Returns was also different from the first two films; it traded a screwball comedy approach for a comedy-mystery angle. It featured a spooky house story that left Blondell an unintended murder victim. Blondell's ghost turns to Topper for help finding her killer. And Topper, who'd had had quite enough of ghosts in the first two films, reluctantly plays amateur detective to solve the mystery.
Along with stars Joan Blondell and Roland Young, Topper Returns included an impressive cast of supporting players. Billie Burke was back for a third go as Mrs. Topper. And the talented Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson appeared as Topper's chauffeur. Also joining the antics was Carole Landis. Known as the "Ping Girl" (short for "purring" coined by a Hal Roach publicist), Landis' Hollywood tale was a tragic one.
Landis arrived on the scene in 1937, and got her feet wet at Warner Bros playing bit parts in films like: Blondes at Work (1938), an entry in the Torchy Blane series starring Glenda Farrell; Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), last of the Gold Diggers series choreographed by Busby Berkeley (with whom Landis was romantically involved); and Four's a Crowd (1938), starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Rosalind Russell. She moved on to leading roles in Republic serials before being cast to star in the Hal Roach dinosaur adventure One Million B.C. (1940). In 1941, Landis was signed by Fox, but she spent much of the war years entertaining the troops overseas. A staunch supporter of the USO, Landis fell seriously ill from malaria and pneumonia after one Pacific tour. The story for Fox's Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) was based on Landis' USO experience.
Unfortunately Landis' career faltered in the 40s. Her last two films, The Noose and Brass Monkey were released in 1948. Her personal life, that included four unsuccessful marriages and an unhappy affair with a married Rex Harrison, was equally unsettling. Landis committed suicide on July 5, 1948. She was just 29 years old.
Topper Returns went on to earn Oscar® nominations for Best Sound and Best Special Effects. And the original novel Topper by Thorne Smith, on which the film's characters were based, would later be adapted several times for the small screen. A 1953 TV series starred Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling as the Kerbys and Leo G. Carroll as Topper. In 1979 Kate Jackson and Andrew Stevens took their turns as George and Marion Kerby with Jack Warden as Topper in a made-for-TV movie.
Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Gordon Douglas, Jonathan Latimer, Paul Girard Smith, based on characters created by Thorne Smith
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Editing: James E. Newcom
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Art Direction: Nicolai Remisoff
Cast: Joan Blondell (Gail Richards), Roland Young (Cosmo Topper), Carole Landis (Ann Carrington), Billie Burke (Clara Topper), Dennis O'Keefe (Bob), Patsy Kelly (Emily), Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson (Eddie), George Zucco (Dr. Jeris), H. B. Warner (Henry Carrington).
by Stephanie Thames