Cast & Crew
Roy Del Ruth
Ann Carrington and her friend, Gail Richards, are riding in Bob's taxicab in upstate New York when a tire blows out and the car crashes. Neither Ann, Gail nor Bob is harmed, and they are unaware that a man in a cape shot out the tire. The women, who have just returned from the Orient, hitchhike because they are impatient to reach Ann's home, and accept a ride from banker Cosmo Topper, who is flustered by the two young beauties. At the gloomy Carrington estate, the women meet Ann's long-lost father Henry, and Ann learns that Henry gave her up after her mother and his business partner, Walter Harberg, died in a Sumatra mining accident. Ann and Gail switch rooms after Gail admires Ann's luxurious bedsheets, but that night, the caped man slips into Gail's room through a false wall. When Gail gets up from her sleep to close the window which he has opened, the caped man stabs her to death. Gail's spirit rises from her body and goes to Topper's house, where he and his wife are preparing for bed. Topper, who has some experience with ghosts, is mildly alarmed when Gail's ghost appears in his bedroom and beseeches him to go to the Carrington estate to find out what happened to her. Topper reluctantly slips out of the house while his wife is sleeping and finds Gail's body, but is unable to call the police because the Carringtons' phone is dead. Henry, his servants Lillian and Rama, and Carrington's physician, Dr. Jeris, are alarmed by the intruder who claims that Gail has been murdered. However, Gail's body disappears, and after finding Ann unharmed and a note supposedly penned by Gail, which says that she has gone out, Topper's story is discounted and Jeris declares him a schizophrenic. Shortly afterward, Bob arrives demanding his unpaid cab fare, but Ann is attacked while getting the money, and is rescued only when Bob rushes in after hearing her scream. The police are sent for and Gail's spirit now realizes that she was murdered because she was mistaken for Ann. Eddie, the chauffeur, then arrives with Mrs. Topper, who searches the house for her husband. Eddie disappears when a trick chair he sits in dumps him into an ocean cavern far below the house. Gail's ghost mischievously helps Topper lock everyone in the icebox, while down below, Eddie observes three men rowing Gail's body to a waiting boat. Topper and Gail's invisible ghost follow the men, and Gail baffles the boat's crew with her antics so that she and Topper can steal the body. When police sergeant Roberts finds Topper with Gail's body, he calls everyone together and accuses him of Gail's murder. Topper is granted a few moments alone in a room, where he confers with Gail's ghost, and obtains the note, which she says was written by Lillian. Lillian admits to writing the note, but denies any involvement in the murder. Just as she is about to name the killer, however, the lights go out and Lillian disappears. Ann is left alone while everyone searches the house, and she is captured by the killer and dragged into a secret passageway. Bob discovers the passage and searches for Ann, and when the killer knocks Bob out, Gail's ghost pummels the man. Bob finds Ann after he revives, but the killer has disappeared. Topper, meanwhile, deduces that the killer used the trick chair to get rid of Lillian. When everyone is again gathered in the room, Topper cleverly finds out that Henry was near the device that activates the chair when Lillian disappeared. Henry sees through Topper's plan and escapes, but Gail's ghost follows him in Topper's car, taking over for Eddie, who is horrified to see the car apparently driving itself. Henry crashes his car and is killed, but his ghost confesses to Gail's that he is actually Harberg, and that Henry died in the mining accident years earlier. After Harberg's ghost reveals that he was trying to get Ann's inheritance, Gail's ghost obtains a written confession, which she gives to Topper. Ann is relieved that the mystery has been solved, but Eddie, disturbed by recent events, quits his job. When Gail's spirit thanks him for his help, however, he runs, terrified, after his former employers.
Roy Del Ruth
H. B. Warner
Eddie "rochester" Anderson
Slicker, A Seal
Werner R. Heymann
Paul Gerard Smith
W. L. Stevens
H. W. Winston
Best Special Effects
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
Topper Returns was the second and final sequel to the 1937 film Topper, which was directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starred Cary Grant and Constance Bennett (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4704). Roland Young and Billie Burke reprised their roles as the "Toppers" in this film, which was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound Recording and Best Special Effects.