Ghosts, killers and Spider-Man: this week’s movies

Following on last week’s viewing of Topper, I caught TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1939) based on Topper-author Thorne Smith’s sequel. After the happy ending of the first film, word of Cosmo Topper’s (Roland Young) supposed scandalous conduct has leaked out to Clara (Billie Burke); when she can’t win a divorce, she lets a friend convince her to fly off to the Riviera and flirt with a gigolo. Fortunately Marion Kirby (Constance Bennett) has been called back from heaven to finish her good deed of helping Topper, and whether or not he wants help, he’s going to get it …

This one didn’t work as well as the first film. It doesn’t have as strong a narrative spine, which makes it just a stock mix of invisibility shticks as Marion works on getting the Toppers back together. It contributed one element to the later Topper TV series, a ghostly dog accompanying Marion here (though small, where the TV show had a St. Bernard). “Mrs. Parkhurst, even if I liked you I wouldn’t want to talk to you.”

I had much more fun with TOPPER RETURNS (1941) a hybrid of ghost comedy and murder mystery.When Joan Blondell and her best friend stay at a spooky old house, Blondell gets murdered; she recruits Topper to help find the killer, which requires skulking through secret passages and dodging booby traps alongside Clara, new maid Patsy Kelly and new chauffeur Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (“Stuff like this never happened when I was with Mr. Benny.”). Good lively fun, making me glad I finally shelled for a replacement copy (someone else walked off with it). George Zucco plays a sinister doctor and Dennis O’Keefe is a heroic cabbie. “I see no reason to stay in this awful house while you go around opening and closing doors!”

I wanted to double-bill Topper Returns with Abbott and Costello’s Hold That Ghost, only to discover I don’t have it. Instead I turned to the murder-mystery parody ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949), which has Bud and Lou as respectively a hotel detective and a bellboy at the Lost Caverns Hotel (when we finally get to the caverns for the climax, it’s a cool  set). When an attorney writing a tell-all book about his clients gets whacked while staying at the hotel, Lou is the prime suspect. Fortunately there are plenty of other possible killers including phony mystic Boris Karloff, poisoner Lenore Aubert (who previously performed with A&C in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Alan Mowbray (the butler in the first two Topper films) as the hotel manager. A favorite of mine.“That’s not a red herring — it looks more like borscht.”

SPIDER-MAN: Far From Home (2019) is an excellent sequel to Homecoming in which Peter swears off superheroics so he can take a summer trip to Europe with the science club and hopefully launch a romance with MJ. That plan collapses when Nick Fury ropes Peter in to help Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio (“That’s not his name, the Italian TV was calling him a ‘man of mystery.’”) stop an army of elementals from destroying the world. The big twist won’t surprise anyone who knows Spider-Man comics but the movie and the cast worked fantastically just the same. “E.D.I.T.H. stands for Even Dead I’m The Hero — Tony loved his acronyms.”

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