Short stories and essays by Shaun Costello, as well as excerpts from manuscripts in progress.

MOVIE MAGIC

MOVIE MAGIC

Ten fantasy-driven films I saw on TV, while home from school, pretending to be sick in the fourth grade, that changed my life forever.

By Shaun Costello

 

 

 My life-long love affair with motion pictures began, not in the cavernous movie palaces of New York City, although I regularly accompanied my parents, or my grandmother to see the latest offerings at Radio City Music Hall, The Roxy, The Loews State, and the Palace; but instead on the 15 inch screen of my family’s black and white Dumont television set, that occupied a place of honor in the finished basement of our house at 9 Elderberry Lane, in the suburban village of Valley Stream, about a 40 minute car ride to mid-town Manhattan. I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade at the local Catholic School, and for purposes of full disclosure, have to admit to taking full advantage of every trick imaginable in order to accrue more than my share of sick days, pretending to be at death’s door, in order to not be held accountable for homework not done, or book reports not finished, or maybe just giving in to chronic laziness in a Herculean attempt to keep my eyes glued to our television screen, without interruption, for, if possible, the entire day.

Daytime TV in the mid-Fifties offered a cornucopia of entertainment, beginning with NBC’c Today Show with Dave Garroway and his chimp Mr Muggs, followed by Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, featuring The McGuire Sisters, Julius LaRosa, and Hawaiian Hottie, Haleloke, who sang songs like ‘Lovely Hula Hands’. Then came a half hour watching Jack LaLane pumping iron and drinking carrot

 juice, followed by an assortment of Game Shows and Soap Operas. The afternoon kicked off with Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane, which offered Franklin talking with people I’d never heard of and showing old shorts and Feature Films.  There were two channels, WOR Channel Nine, and WPIX Channel Eleven that regularly showed old movies. Channel Eleven showed mostly Westerns – lots of Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Bob Steele, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Westerns were right up my alley, but Channel Nine showed a variety of movies, some of which got my attention, and had me clambering for more. Movies about the supernatural which included ghosts, goblins, fairy tale characters, outrageous swindles, outlandish inventions, mermaids, men who could walk through walls, statues that came to life when you kissed them; genies, giants, magic carpet rides, magicians, and friendly spirits who could appear and disappear at will. I was hooked. I was mesmerized. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered form of entertainment.

The purpose of this list, dear reader, is to share ten of these gloriously outlandish movies with you. Ten preposterously unearthly and undignified examples of fantasy cinema, that thrilled me beyond my wildest expectation, and changed my life forever. Of course, you might excuse my reaction to these movies by suggesting that I was nine years old, but here we are, a half century later, and I can still hear that haunting musical score, the sound of singing, the kind of singing that only comes from out near Key Ora, as Mr. Peabody rows his boat through that thick fog bank, following the song, and searching for his mermaid.

 

So, in alphabetical order:

 

BABES IN TOYLAND

1934   Charles Rogers and Gus Meins

 

Based on Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 Operetta of the same name, Babes in Toyland was later released under the titles ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’, and ‘Wooden Soldiers’.

                                                                                                 

This is a delightfully silly fantasy amalgam of Fairy Tale characters with Laurel and Hardy at its center as Stanley Dum and Ollie Dee. The film’s story takes place in the fictional Kingdom of Toyland, inhabited by Mother Goose, Tom-Tom Piper, Mother Peep and Bo Peep, Stan and Ollie’s boss the Toymaker, and the evil Silas Barnaby, who holds Toyland in a constant threat of siege from his henchmen, the Bogey Men, who lurk just outside the gates of the city. Stan and Ollie live in a shoe, with “The Old Woman”, who turns out to be Mother Peep, her daughter Bo Peep, a mouse that is actually played by a monkey in costume, and so many children she didn’t know what to do. The mortgage on The Shoe is owned by the villainous Silas Barnaby, who has his eyes on the lovely Bo Peep. Stan and Ollie try to borrow enough money to pay off the mortgage from their boss the Toymaker, but the normally kindly gentleman is furious at our boys for mixing up an order from Santa Claus, and building one hundred Toy Soldiers six feet tall, rather that what Santa really wanted – six hundred Toy Soldiers one foot tall, so he fires them. With Stan and Ollie unemployed, and The Shoe in foreclosure, Barnaby’s got his clutches into Bo Peep, and the horrible Bogey Men are breaking down the gate to the city. All seems lost, until Stan comes up with the solution. “The Soldiers, the Toy Soldiers”, so our heroes wind up their army of one hundred six foot tall Toy Saviors, Victor Herbert’s March music begins to swell, and Toyland is saved in the nick of time.

Directed by Gus Meins and Charles Rogers (whoever they are), Produced by Hal Roach, and released through MGM. Silly, delicious fluff that I must have seen 20 times down through the years. I can still hear that ‘March Music’.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1KgZX2D5Fg

  

THE BARON OF ARIZONA

1950   Sam Fuller

 

How can a person own a whole state? That’s the question I asked myself when I first saw this Hollywood ‘land-grab’ fantasy. But the fact is, it turns out to be based on a true story, as preposterous as that might seem, and not really a fantasy at all. It’s based on the story of master forger James Reavis, who, in the late Nineteenth Century, almost got away with taking over the entire State of Arizona, forging documents claiming that the area then called Arizona had been granted to his family by the King of Spain, centuries earlier. The U.S. government recognized land grants made when the West was under Spanish rule. This inspired James Reavis to forge a chain of historical evidence that made a foundling girl the Baroness of Arizona. Reavis married the girl and pressed his claim to the entire Arizona territory. And he almost gets away with it. Makes you wonder where John McCain would be today, had this delightful bit of mischief actually succeeded. The real James Reavis (1843 – 1914) was found guilty of creating forged documents, paid a fine of five thousand dollars, and spent two year in jail.

A nice turn here by Vincent Price, as the adventurous forger, and Ellen Drew as the foundling child, who almost became the Baroness of Arizona. Solid direction by war film maven Sam Fuller, and stunning, as usual, black and white lensing by the inimitable James Wong Howe. An aside – Ed Wood does a turn here as a stunt double.

 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

1951   Brian Desmond Hurst

 

The one and only. So many movies have been produced from Dickens’ classic story (even my own), but this Alistair Sim version still holds up as the all-time champ. A wonderful story, simply told, with a bumbling, befuddled, and delighted Sim at its core. The word “humbug”, forever connected to this story and with the Scrooge character, is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. The word “humbug” actually describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people are only pretending to be charitable and kind in a scandalous effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to

 fool him and take advantage of his good nature. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he stoops to trust them.

At least, this is what he thought before that fateful Christmas Eve, when the spirit of his long-dead partner, Jacob Marley, made his ghostly appearance at Scrooge’s bedside, foretelling of the coming of three apparitions that would all appear to Scrooge that very night, in the hope of saving his soul. At the age of nine, I hadn’t read the Dickens book, and was unaware of the story, and this movie scared the bejesus out of me. Although this film is carefully directed, beautifully shot and art-directed, and a typically solid early-Fifties British Production, it’s Alistair Sim’s delicious performance, as the transformed miser, that drives the bus here.

Beyond Sim, there’s Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddelee as the Cratchits, Michael Hordern as Marley’s ghost, George Cole as a hopeful but broken-hearted young Ebenezer Scrooge, and Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim, who has the last word, “God bless us, everyone”.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpbthuKFuFA

 

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR

1947   Joe Mankiewicz

 

In early 1900s England, a young widow, Lucy Muir (a devastatingly beautiful Gene Tierney), moves to the seaside village of Whitecliff and into Gull Cottage with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood)) and her maid Martha (Edna Best), despite

the fierce disapproval of her mother, and sister-in-law. She rents the house despite discovering that it’s haunted. On the first night in her new digs, she is visited by the ghostly apparition of the former owner, a roguish sea captain named Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), who reluctantly promises to make himself known only to her; Anna is too young for ghosts. When Lucy’s source of investment income dries up, he dictates to her his memoirs, entitled Blood and Swash. His racy recollections make the book a bestseller, allowing Lucy to stay in the house. During the course of writing the book, they fall in love, but as both realize it is a hopeless situation, Daniel tells her she should find a real (live) man.

When she visits the publisher in London she becomes attracted to suave Miles Fairley (George Sanders), a writer of children’s stories known as “Uncle Neddy” who helps her obtain an interview. Despite a rocky beginning, the publisher agrees to publish the captain’s book. Fairley follows her back to Whitecliff and begins a whirlwind courtship. Captain Gregg, initially jealous of their relationship, decides finally to disappear and cease being an obstacle to her happiness. He ends their relationship and convinces her that his ghostly apparitions were only a dream.  Shortly thereafter, while visiting her publisher in London (the book has become a bestseller), Lucy pays a surprise visit to Fairley’s home and discovers that, not only is Miles already married with two children, but that this sort of thing has happened before with other women. Lucy leaves heartbroken and returns to spend the rest of her life as a single woman in Gull Cottage with Martha to look after her.

About ten years later, Anna (Vanessa Brown) returns to the cottage with her Navy Lieutenant fiancée and tells her mother that she knew about Captain Gregg and Miles Fairley all the time, rekindling faint memories in her mother of the captain (we also learn that Miles Fairley has become fat and bald and that his wife and children finally left him).

After a long peaceful life spent at the cottage, Lucy dies. This being a movie, Captain Gregg appears before her at the moment of her death – reaching out, he lifts her young spirit free of her old dead body. The two walk out of the front door arm in arm, into the mist. Two spooks in love, and together at long last.

This movie hooked me from the very first moments, and kept my nine year-old eyes glued to that screen. Nicely directed by Joe Mankiewicz, and released by Twentieth Century Fox and Darryl Zanuck. I could spend my whole life in Gull Cottage by the sea, listening to Bernard Herrman’s fabulous music, and playing bridge with ghostly apparitions. I’m just saying………………….

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN6S6FwT5HM

 

 

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT

1951                Alexander Mackendrick

 

A delightful satirical comedy from England’s ever-fabulous Ealing Studios, who brought us The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Lady Killers. It followed a consistent  Ealing theme of the common man (Alec Guiness) against the establishment (everyone else). Sidney Stratton, a brilliant young research chemist and former Cambridge scholarship recipient, has been dismissed from jobs at several textile mills because of his demands for expensive facilities and his obsession to invent a long-lasting fiber. While working as a research chemist at the Birnley Mill, his daily toil accompanied by the constant, almost musical sound of bubbling liquids, he accidently invents an incredibly strong fiber which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made – which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye, and slightly luminous because it includes radioactive elements.

Stratton is lauded as a genius until both management and the trade unions realize the consequence of his invention – once consumers have purchased enough cloth, demand will drop precipitously and put the textile industry out of business. The managers try to trick Stratton into signing away the rights to his invention but he refuses. Managers and workers each try to lock him up, but he escapes.

The climax sees Stratton running through the streets at night in his glowing white suit, pursued by both the managers and the employees. As the crowd advances, his suit begins to fall apart as the chemical structure of the fiber breaks down with time. The mob, realizing the flaw in the process, rip pieces off his suit in evil triumph, until he is left standing in his underwear. Only Daphne Birnley, the mill-owner’s daughter, and Bertha, a Mill laborer, have sympathy for his disappointment.

The next day, Stratton is dismissed from his job. Departing, he consults his chemistry notes, and slowly, an expression of revelation overcomes him, as we hear that sound of those bubbling liquids once more. “I see!”, exclaims young Stratton.  And off he goes, with another outlandish invention in his crosshairs.

As a nine year-old, what I liked most was that the white suit glowed in the dark. Guiness, as usual, is a delight, as is Joan Greenwood – she of the voice like tinkling crystal. Early, and solid black and white lensing by British cinematographer Doug Slocombe. You might find a dvd of this at your local library – mine has all the Ealing classics. Grab it, if you can.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ri3JpPvplg

  

MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID

1948   Irving Pichel

 

This one absolutely knocked me out. It was my first exposure to the idea that Mermaids were a possibility. This fish fantasy stars William Powell as Arthur Peabody, who is undergoing a mid-life crisis as he approaches his 50th birthday. Much of the story is shown in flashback as Peabody tells his skeptical doctor a fish tale for the ages.

Peabody had gone on vacation with his wife Polly (Irene Hervey) to a sea side resort in Bermuda. One evening, he hears singing coming from the distant Key Ora, singing, the likes of which he’s never heard before. He asks s few of the locals, and some of them have heard it too, but long ago. So, our song-smitten hero decides to do a little fishing. To his surprise, he reels in a beautiful mermaid played by Ann Blyth. He names her Lenore (shades of Poe here), and although mute, Lenore is mischievous and childlike and not just a little bit alluring – so much so that before long Peabody has taught her the art of kissing. She shows him an extraordinarily beautiful comb, made from a shell, that she wears in her hair. He hides Lenore by letting her soak in a suds-filled bathtub, then later in the resort’s fish pond. But confusion ensues as his wife thinks he has a big fish in their bathtub and later suspects him of infidelity with Cathy Livingston (Andrea King), a vacationing singer. Things get even more complicated when, after an angry Polly returns home without Peabody, police suspect him of her murder. But they’re British Police (hey, it’s Bermuda), after all, and it would be uncivilized to arrest a man in his home, even if it’s a rental.

And Peabody hears that singing again, out from somewhere near Key Ora. Out in that thick fog bank. And off he goes in his little boat, searching for the lost Lenore. A wave capsizes his craft, and while trying to survive under the water, he see’s and reaches for Lenore’s beautiful comb.

We dissolve here, ending the fishy-flashback, to his shrink’s office, back in Boston. He’s told his story to a doubting psychiatrist, who knows a mid-life crisis when he see’s one. But wait – Peabody’s got something in his hand. Something he’s been holding all the while he’s been telling his tale. “What’s that”, asks his shrink. “Oh nothing”, say’s Peabody. “Just a comb I found somewhere”. “How extraordinary”, say’s the Doctor, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it before”. And we begin to hear that singing again, like the kind of singing that only comes from that thick fog bank, somewhere out near Key Ora.

Well, this being my first mermaid experience, I was just as smitten as poor Peabody – smitten, but combless.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7yTUTAS8Rc&feature=related

 

 

MR. PEEK-A-BOO

1951   Jean Boyer

 

      This one also knocked me for a loop. In Paris, a simple civil servant named Léon, who has the unusual ability to walk through walls (who cares why – he can really do this), falls madly in love with a hotel thief by the name of Susan. He poses as Garou-Garou, a dangerous gangster to attempt to woo her affections, but is mistakenly arrested and sent to jail. While incarcerated, he annoys the guards by walking in and out of his cell, right through the bars, and the cell walls. It’s a bizarre, modern/fantasy/adventure/ romance.  It’s boy meets girl with an walk-through twist. Leon’s friends suggest he use his odd ability to become the criminal of the century, walking through bank vaults and off with the loot. But, Leon instead, see’s his strange gift as a way to help Susan, who is being blackmailed. A very moralistic tale – love triumphs over crime. The film stars Bourvil, as Leon, who up until this effort, had been a semi-successful French lounge singer and comedian; and the delightful Joan Greenwood (that voice again) as Susan the Cat Burglar. Fantasizing about having Leon’s abilities took up a great deal of my young life. The possibilities were endless. Unlike other films on this list, I confess to only having seen this that one time, on my family’s black and white Dumont, but I never forgot this delightful French fantasy. I know it’s a one trick pony – but what a trick.

 

  

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS

1948 William A. Seiter 

Kiss a statue, and it turns into Ava Gardner? Yikes! Since I’ve turned parts of this Blog into a my own private confessional, I might just as well go on record here, as having laid the smooch on countless pieces of marble and granite, in a futile attempt to recreate the aforementioned morphing, after seeing this movie, at the tender age of nine, in the confines of my basement. I even talked my puzzled parents into a trip to the Metropolitan Museum so that I could sneak up on renowned statuary and, when no one was looking, do some furtive fondling. The idea of possessing my very own Ava Gardner overwhelmed me, and probably was the beginning of my inability, throughout my life, to nurture and maintain a lengthy and lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex. I was looking for a statue, instead. But, before I rant on about one of my favorite fantafilms, let me give you some of the surprising background for this production from Universal’s fluff department.

One Touch of Venus was a Broadway musical with the score written by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, and book by S. J. Perelman and Nash, based on the novella The Tinted Venus by Thomas Anstey Guthrie, and very loosely spoofing the Pygmalion myth. The show satirized contemporary American suburban values, artistic fads and romantic and sexual mores. Weill had been in America for ten years by the time he wrote this musical, and his music, though retaining his early haunting power, had evolved into a very different Broadway style.

The original Broadway production opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 7, 1943 and closed on February 10, 1945 after 567 performances. The original production was directed by Elia Kazan and featured choreography by Agnes de Mille. It starred Mary Martin, Kenny Baker and Paula Laurence. Marlene Dietrich reportedly backed out of the title role during rehearsals, calling it “too sexy and profane”, which gave Martin the opportunity to establish herself as a Broadway star. The show was made into the 1948 film, directed by William A. Seiter and starring Ava Gardner and Robert Walker. The movie version omitted much of the Broadway score and received poor reviews.

OK, enough surprising background. Let’s get back to kissing a statue and getting Eva Gardner in the bargain. Wealthy department-store mogul Whitfield Savory II (Tom Conway) buys a statue of Venus for $200,000. He plans to exhibit it in the store.

Eddie Hatch (Robert Walker), a window dresser, kisses the statue on a whim. To his shock, Venus comes to life as Eva Gardner. She leaves the store and Eddie is accused of stealing the work of art.

Nobody believes the truth, including secretary Molly Stewart (the one and only Eve Arden), who is Savory’s right-hand woman, and Kerrigan (James Flavin), a detective. Venus turns up at Eddie’s apartment, forcing him to hide her from girlfriend Gloria and roommate Joe.

Entranced by Venus’s song of love, Joe falls for Eddie’s girl Gloria. At the store, meanwhile, Venus has fallen asleep on a sofa and is discovered there by Whitfield, who is instantly smitten.

Kerrigan decides it’s time for Eddie to be placed under arrest for the statue’s theft. Venus, to save Eddie, is willing to seduce Whitfield, but a threat by Molly to leave him brings Whitfield back to his senses. He realizes it’s Molly he truly loves. Aw Geeze.

Venus is called home by Jupiter and must return to Mount Olympus, so she returns to her pedestal. Whitfield can now display his work of art to the public. Eddie is the only one left alone, at least until he meets a new salesgirl who is, I’ll bet you knew this was coming, a dead ringer for the goddess of love.

I’ve spent my life trying to turn marble into flesh, only to find that the opposite usually happens.

  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6STa-t34Z9c

 

THIEF OF BAGDAD

1940      Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan

 A fantasy for all seasons! Years ahead of its time, in special effects, cinematography, and directorial vision, this movie, maybe more than any other, just plain blew my sox off. When the giant genie, all 100 feet of him, lowers his hand, allowing Sabu to climb aboard, and then flips the little fellow up onto his shoulder, telling him to take hold of the long pig tail, and with Sabu holding on for dear life, and an echoing, thunderous laughter, the Genie takes flight, I just stood up and started screaming…..screaming! I couldn’t contain my joy.

 OK, I’ll calm down now, enough to explain the story. Ahmad (John Justin), the naive King of Bagdad, is convinced by the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), to go out into the city disguised as a poor man to get to know his subjects (in the manner of his grandfather Harun al-Rashid). Jaffar then has Ahmad thrown into a dungeon, where he is joined by Abu the thief (Sabu), son of Abu the thief, grandson of Abu the thief. Abu arranges their escape.

They flee to Basra, where Ahmad becomes acquainted with its Princess (June Duprez). However, Jaffar also journeys to Basra, for he desires the Princess. Her father, the Sultan (Miles Malleson), is fascinated by the magical mechanical flying horse Jaffar offers and agrees to the proposed marriage. Upon hearing the news, the Princess, by now deeply in love with Ahmad, runs away. Confronted by Ahmad, Jaffar magically blinds him and turns Abu into a dog; the spell can only be broken if Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.

The Princess is eventually captured (but not recognized) and sold in the slave market. She is bought secretly by Jaffar and taken to his mansion, but falls into a deep sleep from which he cannot rouse her. Ahmad is tricked by Jaffar’s servant Halima (Mary Morris) into awaking the Princess. Halima then lures the Princess onto Jaffar’s ship by telling her that there is a doctor aboard who can cure Ahmad’s blindness. The ship immediately sets sail. Jaffar informs the Princess about the spell; she allows herself to be embraced, whereupon Ahmad’s sight is restored and Abu is returned to human form. They chase after the ship in a small boat, but Jaffar conjures up a storm to shipwreck them.

Abu wakes up alone on a deserted beach and finds a bottle. When he opens it, an enormous djinn or genie (Rex Ingram) appears. Embittered by his long imprisonment, the genie informs Abu that he is going to kill his rescuer, but Abu tricks him back into the bottle. The genie then offers to grant Abu three wishes if he will let him out again. The hungry boy uses his first wish to ask for sausages. When Abu demands to know where Ahmad is, the genie flies Abu to the top of the highest mountain in the world. On it sits a temple, and in the temple there is an enormous statue with a large jewel, the All-Seeing Eye, set in its forehead. The genie tells Abu that the Eye will show him where to find Ahmad. Abu fights off a giant guardian spider while climbing the statue and steals the gem.

The genie then takes Abu to Ahmad. When Ahmad asks to see the Princess, Abu has him gaze into the All-Seeing Eye. Ahmad despairs when he sees Jaffar arranging for the Princess to inhale the fragrance of the Blue Rose of Forgetfulness, which makes her forget her love. In agony, Ahmad lashes out at Abu for showing him the scene. During the ensuing argument, Abu unthinkingly wishes Ahmad to Baghdad. The genie, freed after granting the last wish, departs, leaving Abu alone in the wilderness.

Ahmad appears in Jaffar’s castle and is quickly captured, but seeing him restores the Princess’s memory. The furious usurper sentences them both to death. Abu, unable to watch his friend’s impending doom, shatters the All-Seeing Eye and as a result is transported to the “land of legend,” where he is greeted by the Old King (Morton Selten) and thanked for freeing the inhabitants, who had been turned to stone. As a reward, he is given a magic crossbow and is named the king’s successor. However, in order to save Ahmad, he steals the king’s magic flying carpet and rushes to the rescue.

Abu’s marvelous aerial arrival (which fulfills a prophecy often cited in the course of the story) sparks a revolt against Jaffar. Abu kills the fleeing Jaffar with his crossbow, and Ahmad regains his kingdom and his love. However, when Abu hears (with growing alarm) Ahmad tell the people of his plan to send him to school to train to become his new Grand Vizier, Abu flies away on the carpet to find his own fun and adventure.

Did you get all that? Just checking. And every frame is gorgeous and thrilling. Nominated for four Oscars, it won three: Best Cinematography, Special Effects, and Art Direction. Shooting began in England, but with the outbreak of WWII, the picture was finished in Hollywood. Produced by Alexander Korda, it took three directors to make this happen; Michael Powell (later to dazzle with The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and many more), Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan. Absolutely dazzling, from beginning to end.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrpukRr3c9s

 

 

TOPPER

1937      Norman McLeod 

Well, we’ve come down to it – ghosts, fun loving, hard drinking, practical joking ghosts. Appearing and disappearing at will. What could be better? Those funloving Kerbys, George (Cary Grant) and Marion (Constance Bennett), stockholders in the bank of which henpecked, stuffy Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) is president, drive recklessly once too often and become ghosts. In limbo because they’ve never done either good or bad deeds, they decide to try a good one now; rehabilitating Topper. Lovely, flirtatious Marion takes a keen personal interest in the job. Will Topper survive the wrath of jealous ghost George? Will Mrs. Topper (Billie Burke) find that a scandalous husband isn’t all bad?

“Topper”, a delightful and original film directed by Norman Z McLeod, should be on everybody’s ‘must see’ list. It is one of the best films Hollywood produced, at the height of the madcap comedy craze of the thirties. Just to watch Roland Young, Constance Bennett and Cary Grant in the same film is pretty delicious.

 Constance Bennett and Cary Grant made a fabulous couple. Ms. Bennett had the uncanny gift of blending with all her leading men well. She was a charming actress with such a sense of style and an amazing figure to boot that made her an irresistible presence on the screen. Cary Grant is also seen at his best in the film as the carefree  and fun loving George Kerby.

 But it’s Roland Young who steals the show! He plays the staid banker Cosmo Topper, who is all business until he starts being made the object of the Kerby’s antics. Cosmo Topper’s wife is the incomparable Billie Burke, the Queen of Ditz.

 Produced (uncredited, for some reason) by Hal Roach, shot by Norbert Brodine, and music by Marvin Hatley, Topper, referred to as ‘Toppie’ by Ms Bennett, makes me happy every time I see it. Delicious fluff!

  

http://video.tvguide.com/TOPPER/3590449

  

© 2011 Shaun Costello

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