TOP Man (1943)

TOP MAN 1943

Top Man (also known as Man of the Family) is a 1943 American black-and-white film starring Donald O’Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, and Peggy Ryan. This was O’Connor and Ryan’s first film away from the third of their trio, Gloria Jean.

TOP MAN, Donald O'Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943 c

  • Directed by Charles Lamont
  • Produced by Milton Schwarzwald
  • Written by Ken Goldsmith Zachary Gold
  • Starring Donald O’Connor
  • Cinematography Hal Mohr
  • Distributed by Universal Pictures
  • Release date September 17, 1943
  • Running time 74 minutes Country United States

TOP MAN, Donald O'Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943 b

Musical in which a family puts on a show to boost the morale of the local factory workers.

“The working title of this film was Man of the Family . Universal producer and writer Ken Goldsmith died at the age of forty-three while working on the pre-production of this film. He was replaced as associate producer by Bernard W. Burton.” (AFI – American Film Institute)

top man, richard dix, lillian gish, 1943


Tom and Beth Warren are worried about the poor grades that their teenage son Don is getting at Burlington Junior College. When questioned by his father, Don states that he is only interested in becoming a flyer, as Tom was in World War I. As he is being chastised for his laziness by his two sisters, Jane and Patricia, Don sneaks out of the house and discovers a new family moving in across the street. The new neighbors include an attractive young girl named Connie Allen. Don takes Connie to Higgins’ soda fountain, where she is an immediate hit with all the young men, if not with the jealous young ladies. Don soon falls in love with Connie, but Pat is not as lucky, as her longtime boyfriend, Ed Thompson, is spending all his time working at the Federated Aircraft factory. The Warrens’ lives are further disrupted when Tom re-enlists in the U.S. Navy. Jane, however, misunderstands her parents’ conversation and tells all that Don has been accepted into flyer training. Don’s joy is short-lived, as he soon learns the truth, along with the fact that his childhood friend, Bud Haley, has just been killed in an air battle. After his father leaves, Don becomes “the man of the family,” and begins to take his studies more seriously.

TOP MAN, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943

His commitment to the books is so complete that he is even called into the principal’s office to discuss his vastly improved grades and misses numerous rehearsals at Connie’s house for the college variety show. Later, Ed and Pat have a fight and break up, so Don goes to the aircraft factory to talk to the engineer. He is stopped at the gate by a security guard, but is later let in by Mr. Fairchild, the plant superintendent and Connie’s uncle. Learning that the factory has a man-power shortage, Don suggests the he and his college friends come to work at the factory on a part-time basis. At first, his friends are unwilling to sacrifice their leisure time, but with Don’s encouragement, they all agree to go to work to help the war effort.

TOP MAN, from left Donald O'Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943
TOP MAN, from left Donald O’Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943

With the extra workers, the factory’s production increases drastically, so Fairchild agrees to let the students put on their canceled variety show at the plant. As an extra attraction, Connie uses her uncle’s money to hire Count Basie and His Orchestra. The show is a great success, and the plant itself is decorated by the U.S. Army and Navy for its contribution to the war effort. Don himself receives a special citation from the Bureau of Aeronautics, which is presented to him by his father. The young man, however, insists on sharing the credit with Connie. (AFI)

Top Man 1943 Lillian Gish Detail LRWeb

TOP MAN (1943) (American Film Institute) Catalog

81 or 82.5-83 mins | Comedy-Drama | 17 September 1943


Donald O’Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish


Charles Lamont


Zachary Gold


Hal Mohr


Paul Landres

Production Designers:

John GoodmanRobert Clatworthy

Production Company:

Universal Pictures Company, Inc.


“Someone at Universal Studio has a mind like a steel trap; that’s plain—as witness: a few months ago lots of people were exclaiming in wide-eyed surprise that a youngster named Donald O’Connor was a new Mickey Rooney in the rough. (Naturally, Donald’s mannerisms had nothing to do with it—oh, no!) So what happens? Along comes Universal with a new picture—bang, just like that!—presenting Donald O’Connor in a typical Andy Hardy role. “Top Man” is its title. It came to Loew’s State yesterday. Now, what do you think of that for imagination? Someone at Universal must be proud.The picture? Well, let’s not be too rigid. It’s a flat imitation of a Hardy Family film, that’s all, with Master O’Connor being more prodigious than Mr. Rooney, if such could be. It is he who takes over the running of his family when his father goes to war; it is he who rallies his junior classmates to work in an aircraft plant; it is he who does most of the acting in the factory’s big morale show, and it is he who gets a glowing citation from the Navy Department, no less.If you can stand youthful ostentation in its most callow and unabashed form—if you can endure a sassy youngster acting smart without a smidge of boyish charm—then possibly you will find Donald not wholly unbearable. Certainly you will find Susann Foster attractive to eye and ear and the clowning of Peggy Ryan diverting without being fresh. But you will have to be able to take Donald before you can take this film. And even if you can do that, there’s precious little else that goes with him.”
Plenty of Donald – TOP MAN, screen play by Zachary Gold; from an original story by Ken Goldsmith; directed by Charles Lamont; produced by Milton Schwarzwald for Universal. At Loew’s State.
TOP MAN, Donald O'Connor, Susanna Foster, Lillian Gish, Richard Dix, 1943 d
Don Warren . . . . . Donald O’Connor
Connie Allen . . . . . Susanna Foster
Beth Warren . . . . . Lillian Gish
Tom Warren . . . . . Richard Dix
Jane Warren . . . . . Peggy Rvan
Pat Warren . . . . . Anne Gwynne
Archie Fleming . . . . . David Holt
Ed Thompson . . . . . Noah Beery Jr.
Erna Lane . . . . . Marcia Mae Jones
Tommy Haley . . . . . Richard Love
Mr. Fairchild . . . . . Samuel S. Hinds
Mrs. Fairchild . . . . . Barbara Brownand
Count Basie and his orchestra and Borrah Minnevitch’s Harmonica Rascals.
Fan review:
“Top Man” is a cute movie. Decent and fun. But it’s definitely not up to par with some of the other Donald O’Connor-Peggy Ryan musicals, like “Mister Big” or “Patrick the Great”. The songs and dances in “Top Man” are alright. I particularly liked the gypsy number done by O’Connor and Ryan at towards the end of the movie. And Susanna Foster gets some nice songs, too. It was also a joy to see Lillian Gish in a talkie, since I’ve only seen her in silents.

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Top Man 1943 Poster S

Lillian Gish, Susanna Foster and Dorothy Gish visiting Universal Studios in July 1943

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The Winnipeg Tribune – Cavalcade of Screen Lillian Gish 08-17-1943


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