Topper Returns (1941): Third, Oscar-Nominated Panel of Hal Roach Series, Starring Rold Young

The third and last chapter of the Topper film series made by the venerable producer Hal Roach, Topper Returns, is less of a light screwball comedy and more of a dark house mystery.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Topper Returns
Topper Returns VideoCover.jpeg

Theatrical release poster

Roland Young is back as banker Cosmo Topper who offers a lift to hitchhikers Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) and Ann Carrington (Carole Landis), a gesture that his jealous wife Clara (Billie Burke) resents

Gail and Ann are heading to a mysterious mansion inherited by Ann and populated by the sinister and strange Dr. Jeris (George Zucco) and Lillian (Rafaela Ottiano). The only trustworthy person is Ann’s father (H.B. Warner).

Unable to sleep, Gail and Ann exchange bedrooms, which proves to be a mistake, when an assailant intending to murder Ann kills Gail instead.

As a result, Gail’s ghost appears in the summer house where the Toppers are staying. Topper wants nothing to do with Gail’s spirit, but she convinces him to help her identity her killer and to rescue Ann.

Topper and Ghost-Gail get her body back from a small ship offshore from the water cave. The body is returned to the mansion and despite the detective’s total confusion, Topper states that the killer must have been the person who was standing nearest the fireplace when Lillian was about to talk, and that person was none other than Mr. Carrington!

Mr. Carrington gets in a car and drives off, and Ghost-Gail gets into Topper’s sports car, and goes in pursuit. Mr. Carrington, followed in hot pursuit, loses control and his car crashes into a tree; he dies and becomes a ghost himself.

Ghost-Gail browbeats Ghost-Carrington into writing a letter to Ann, confessing that he is not her father, but his business partner. Her father died in the mine together with Ann’s mother, and he has been impersonating Carrington and wanted to kill Ann to keep the fortune for himself.

Ghost-Gail gives the letter to Topper when the characters arrives at the crash scene, and Topper hands it to Ann. Clara Topper sees that Cosmo was telling the truth about his adventures with the young ladies.

Eddie “Rochester” Anderson plays well Young’s frightened chauffeur.

The feature is too contrived and too broad, lacking much wit or humor, making it the weakest of the Topper films, which may explain why it was the last; the narrative possibilities seem to have been exhausted.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Sound; Elmer Raguse
Special Effects: Roy Seawright, Elmer Raguse

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Sound Recording was Jack Whitney for “That Hamilton Woman.”
“I Wanted Wings” won the the Special Effects Oscar.

Joan Blondell as Gail Richards
Roland Young as Cosmo Topper
Carole Landis as Ann Carrington
Billie Burke as Clara Topper
Dennis O’Keefe as Bob
Patsy Kelly as Emily
H. B. Warner as Henry Carrington
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson as Eddie
George Zucco as Dr. Jeris
Donald McBride as Police Sergeant Roberts
Rafaela Ottiano as Lillian
Trevor Bardette as Rama


Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Produced by Hal Roach
Written by Jonathan Latimer, based on characters created by Thorne Smith
Music by Werner R. Heymann
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited by James Newcom

Production company: Hal Roach Studios

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: March 21, 1941

Running time: 88 minutes