Monday, May 14, 2012

Film Review: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Henry and Barbara in their first picture
Photo Courtesy of
 TCMDb: A daffy socialite gets her friends mixed up in a murder investigation.

     Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are one of my favorite leading couples. They were so great together--granted, Barbara Stanwyck was great with just about everyone, and Henry Fonda was, well, Henry Fonda (need I explain more?). So it absolutely galls me almost to the point of insanity that they aren't included in TCM's Leading Couples book. Uh, hello, TCM, what happened here? Someone, I don't know who, but someone seriously let the ball drop on this one. 
     Tsk, tsk.
     When one thinks of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, they immediately think of their classic pairing in The Lady Eve (1941), and they do so with good reason. Lady is a rare gem in the fact that it is flawless; it's perfection is dazzling. Taking it for granted in the fact that if you are a classic fan, or a fan of either Barbara's and/or Henry's, you probably already know about The Lady Eve, meaning you've seen it and/or read about it, I chose their first pairing which came three years before as one of Barbara's essentials: The Mad Miss Manton.
     When I watched this film, I thought to myself, If I ever find a dead body, I hope Barbara Stanwyck is there with me . . . Yes, you heard me, I would want Barbara Stanwyck there by my side--at least then I'd know I'd get some sort of comic relief.
Do not try this level of coolness. You will fail, and most likely
get more than just a little singed.
Photo Courtesy of
     Though it's not considered up to par of the leading screwball comedies such as Bringing Up Baby, It Happened One Night, or My Man Godfrey, I think it should be. It's a delightful film with a great vibe, a mystery that'll have you guessing all the way (at least it did me), and of course the romance between Barbara and Henry is lovely to watch. One of my top favorite scenes is when, after Henry's character, Peter Ames, a newspaperman, has printed a story saying that the body that socialite Melsa Manton had supposedly found at a friend's house who is away, was nothing but another one of her many hoaxes (which she's apparently quite well known for), Barbara bursts into his office, walks up to Henry's secretary and slaps him full across the face, and only then asks, "Are you Peter Ames?" The secretary stutters a "no". Having started to pace in his office before Melsa walked in, Peter walks out from behind the door which he had become hidden behind when she burst in, and says, "But I am." Melsa promptly turns around and slaps him across the face, and without missing a single beat, Peter slaps her right back and says coolly, "To complete the circle."
Henry and Barbara . . . one of the best leading couples ever.
Photo Courtesy of
     I thought I was going to die of laughter. I replayed that scene at least four times. In that one row, and with the continuation of the scene, you know that the pairing of Peter Ames and Melsa Manton/Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck is going to be interesting . . . very interesting indeed.
     Another aspect that I love about this film is Melsa Manton's group of friends. They're the kind of friends that a girl wants to have: they believe in you, and no matter what, they've got your back. Granted, they're a little daffy, but so is Melsa so it all works out in the end. The point is, Melsa has gotten herself in this mess of having to prove that there actually was a body, and though they're not so certain about everything, they're willing to help her and stick with her no matter how much trouble they get into. Tell me, what more could a girl ask for?
The nuts . . .
Photo Courtesy of
     Anyone that knows me knows that I love a good comeback and The Mad Miss Manton is loaded with them. Besides the formerly mentioned "To complete the circle" there's also this exchange between a couple of Melsa's friends when they go back to the house in which Melsa originally found the body in:

Melsa: Helen, you go search the upstairs.
Helen Frayne (Frances Mercer): Oh, no! I was never much of an individualist. If the upstairs has to be searched, we'll search it together.
Dora Fenton (Catherine O'Quinn): Why, that's communism!

Here's another one:

Peter: Listen, before I knew you, I disliked you intensely. When I met you, I disliked you intensely. Even now, I dislike you intensely . . . that is the sensible, sane portion of me . . . but there's an insane side of me that gets a little violent every time I think of you.
Melsa: Getting out of a million dollar lawsuit wouldn't have anything to do with your change of affection, would it?
Peter: You're a nasty creature, aren't you, but in time I'll beat it out of you.

Ooh, ooh, one more:

Peter: We'll go to South America for six months--maybe we'll never come back.
Melsa: Can you afford it?
Peter: No, but you can.
Melsa: Isn't there a drop of red blood in your veins? I want to live on your income!
Peter: That's foolish, who's going to live on yours?

     I cannot be the only one who finds those lines hilarious . . .
Henry, gagged, tucked, and all ready to go beddy-bye with
his dolly.
Photo Courtesy of

     Really, I don't see why Leonard Maltin only gives this film a two and a half star rating. For me, this film is a laugh a minute that should be far better remembered than it is. It may not be The Lady Eve, but I think it was a wonderful first pairing for a wonderful classic leading couple that doesn't get all the notice that they should. So, if this little post has at all whetted your desire to see this film, TCM will be showing it on Saturday, June 9 at 12:00 A.M. EST. I highly suggest you watch it because I give this film a 3.5/4 stars.


Cheryl said...

Great review of a great film!

Bailey said...

I liked it! But where'd you watch this? On film-classics? I just don't remember the scene where your last picture is from and I'm not sure if it got cut out from the clips or from my memory.