Topper Returns (1941)

In the third and final film in the Topper series of supernatural misadventures featuring lovable ghosts, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson is featured as Topper’s chauffeur, with his raspy, yelling voice (much more animated than Willie Best/Stepin Fetchit, and perhaps even slightly more than Mantan Moreland). Bug-eyed double takes are the name of his game here: at footprints being made in the snow by the ghost, at the ghost smoking a cigarette, at the ghost rowing Topper in a boat, at even the mention of a dead body, at a car being driven by the ghost, and at crow landing on his shoulder.

As with most spook roles, he’s constantly trying to get away from his boss, who’s trying to go toward the danger: “OK, I’ll go with you, but kinda keep to one side ‘cause I got a feelin’ some running’s gonna be done!” At one point, Anderson abandons Topper and drives away from the haunted house, saying that he’s preparing to return “to Mr. Benny” (Jack, that is, with whom Anderson gained fame). The movie builds scenes around Rochester’s reactions; it establishes the thing he’ll react to (ghost, crow, etc.) outside of his view, then waits anxiously for him to do the inevitable double-take and run-away.

Rochester is the only character other than Topper who encounters the ghost; the white maid, by contrast, doesn’t — she stays with Mrs. Topper. (Topper doesn’t bother to explain ghost’s presence to Rochester, so we get repeated instances of Rochester reacting as if it’s his first time seeing the ghost.) Rochester, as the butt of joke, falls an irritating three times down a shaft into a pool of water. The movie ends with Rochester encountering ghosts yet again and running into the sunset. Still, Rochester may be the best comedic actor (i.e., the least wooden) of the main black “spooks” of the time — including Mantan Moreland, Willie Best and Stepin Fetchit — and usually the least offensive…usually.

“Oh no, I crapped myself.”
“…And this isn’t even my coat.”


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