Forgotten Films: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

The Mad Miss Manton — both the movie and the character — are full of wacky hijinks.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 143rd my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

When I was doing the Forgotten Films over at the Missions Unknown blog (RIP!), one of the things I always wanted to do was to expand the films and books I was reviewing to more than just the science fiction, fantasy and horror fields because I read in lots of different areas. I wanted to do some mystery or Western or other types of reviews. However, Missions Unknown was designed to attract readers and fans to the World Science Fiction Convention which was held in San Antonio in 2013.

That’s two years gone now and so is Missions Unknown, so I am going and doing the films and stuff I want to review. Now, that is not to say that I am abandoning the sf/f/h field, because that would be silly. They are an integral part of who I am and what I read and watch. But they are not the only things.

This week, I want to go for a screwball mystery comedy from a bygone era. Barbara Stanwyk was an actress I never really appreciated when she was alive. My first exposure to her was on the TV screen as Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley. She was an imposing presence there, but as a young teen, Linda Evans was much more appealing to me. Later, I discovered her work as a femme fatale in film noir classics such as Double Indemnity. Her comedies came into my scope much later when I found Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve. A very versatile actress, she was never one of my favorites until I first saw The Mad Miss Manton.

This is a screwball comedy that is not quite up to the standards established in Katherine Hepburn’s Bringing Up Baby, but it’s not far off those standards either. Melsa Manton (Stanwyk) is a socialite who has a history with the police involving “pranks.” Early one morning she sees a friend exiting an abandoned home owned by other people she knows. Inside, she finds a diamond pin and a dead body. She leaves the house and calls the police, who are less than pleased when they arrive and find no body. Melsa was dressed for a costume party and has left the pin in her cloak, which was left at the house. And, surprise, it’s not there when she returns.

The incident garners a front page editorial in The Daily Clarion from Peter Ames (Henry Fonda, reteaming with his The Lady Eve co-star). Melsa files a million-dollar libel suit against the paper. Ames, having never met Melsa, finds himself falling for her. Melsa and her cohort of rich, young, single gal pals go to the friend’s home and find the missing pin. They also discover the friend’s dead and stuffed into the refrigerator.

When the police refuse to come, the ladies put the body in Peter’s office and inform the rival newspaper, which makes it the front page story. Ames is clearly falling for Melsa, and she wants nothing to do with it. She’s not really sure if he is truly in love or is trying to get out of the lawsuit. Hijinks ensue and everyone is running around with no concept of due process or anything legal.

Fun is had. Ames is shot. There is deceit and laughter. There are more murders and love abounds. Lunch is had by Pat (one of the gals) who is always hungry.

I watched it again today and absolutely enjoyed it. You might check it out. It shows on TCM fairly often, as they truly adore Barbara Stanwyk and it’s not hard to see why.

Of course, you might think today’s crop of comedians that top the box office are funny. I’m talking Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Seth Rogen and the like. If that’s the case, there is no hope for you, so you can avoid this one, an actual funny film. Your mileage may vary too.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.