28 June 2004 | Ron Oliver
Ghostly Encounters--Act One
Cosmo TOPPER has his stuffy, henpecked life turned upside down by the interference of two recently deceased friends.
The folks at Hal Roach Studios fashioned this popular supernatural comedy. Intended to be at the opposite extreme from the typical ghost thriller, there are no sudden chills or eerie ectoplasms here--just lots of good humor and a few (well done) special effects.
Owlish Roland Young plays the bemused recipient of his dead friends' good deeds. No matter how drastically the intentions backfire, leading to arrest & scandal, Young remains a decent chap bent on regaining some equanimity in his life. (What is most impressive about his performance are his hilarious physical contortions when under the invisible influence of the ghosts.) Dear Billie Burke is wonderful, as usual, as Young's slightly bewildered wife, who has relinquished the role of lover to be mother hen to her husband -- hoping her control over him assures their acceptance by high society.
As the Kerbys--living and dead-- Constance Bennett & Cary Grant have plenty of star power & charm to spare and their spirits are certainly blithe, but a frank examination of their characters reveals some flaws. There is nothing funny about alcoholism or reckless driving, both of which contribute to their demise, and they are fortunate they kill only their own silly selves and not anyone else. That being said, they certainly do make a pair of great-looking spooks.
The rest of the cast adds to the fun: Alan Mowbray once again plays a butler with an attitude; young Arthur Lake appears as a hapless hotel employee; elegant Hedda Hopper does well with her single scene as an unstuffy society doyenne; J. Farrell MacDonald plays a no-nonsense cop; and corpulent Eugene Pallette has fun with his role as a suspicious hotel detective.
Composer Hoagy Carmichael appears as himself and Ward Bond plays a taxi driver, both uncredited.
This was the first of a 3-film series and was followed by TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1939) and TOPPER RETURNS (1941).