Monday, July 16, 2007

Tonight's Movie: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Barbara Stanwyck and a gaggle of giddy debutantes solve a murder mystery in THE MAD MISS MANTON, an amusing entry in the screwball mystery genre.

The uniquely named Melsa Manton (Stanwyck) stumbles across a dead body, but when it disappears neither a police lieutenant (Sam Levene) or a newspaperman (Henry Fonda) believe her. Miss Manton and her wealthy girlfriends thus decide to take matters into their own hands.

MISS MANTON is a good example of '30s film escapism, with Stanwyck's rich society girl living in an elegant apartment designed by Van Nest Polglase. There are some great bits scattered throughout the film; one of my favorite moments in the script is when Fonda tells Stanwyck he's taking her away to South America. "Can you afford it?" she asks. He replies "No, but you can!"

Sam Levene is fun as the bicarbonate-guzzling lieutenant, a role similar to the soda-swilling Inspector Gunther he played in GRAND CENTRAL MURDER. Hattie McDaniel, who plays Stanwyck's housekeeper, has some of the film's best lines. Bit parts are filled with great character actors such as John Qualen, Grady Sutton, and Olin Howland. Check out the credits of Irving Bacon, who plays the process server -- over 500 film and TV credits between 1915 and 1960!

The black and white movie runs 80 minutes and was directed by Leigh Jason. Jason taught at UCLA before entering the movie business. His brother, Will, was also a director, not to mention a songwriter.

THE MAD MISS MANTON has been released on VHS. Vote here at TCM if you'd like to see it released on DVD.

Watch the trailer here.

THE MAD MISS MANTON next airs on cable's Turner Classic Movies on October 26, 2007.

April 2009 Update: THE MAD MISS MANTON is now available on DVD via the Warner Archive.


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

Knowing that Stanwyck isn't one of your favorites, I am glad you seemed to enjoy this movie. I enjoy her comedies more than anything else.
Sam Levene is also a favorite actor of mine. He never failed to entertain. I especially loved him as the Inspector Lt. Abrams who helps William Powell and Myrna Loy in two of The Thin Man movies, After The Thin Man (my personal fave of the series) and Shadow of The Thin Man.
He was also very good in Boomerang! with Dana Andrews

6:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi J.C.,

I completely agree about Sam Levene -- he's always very enjoyable.

I did like this film, found it a good (though not great) screwball which was a fun evening. I find I have enjoyed Stanwyck in more movies in the past year (REMEMBER THE NIGHT, MY REPUTATION) -- I strongly disliked some of her performances later in her career but don't find she has the same annoying-to-me mannerisms in some (not all) of the films from earlier in her career. I have in the past avoided some of her other films, including comedies such as THE LADY EVE and BALL OF FIRE, because I haven't liked her, but I'm more open to trying them now. :)

Best wishes,

8:37 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Nice review. I like the gaggle of society ladies that always parades behind Stanwyck like some posse in satins and furs.

If you find the later Stanwyck films not very enjoyable because of the caustic characters she plays, try Stella Dallas or So Big (a very early one particularly poignant). Annie Oakley and Union Pacific are more sympathetic characters as well. She's never the same twice.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jacqueline, Thanks for visiting! I've been enjoying your blog.

What you say about Stanwyck's earlier roles seems very true, based on my viewing of the last year -- she's never the same. Her acting seems much more varied than towards the end of her career. I will make it a point to look for SO BIG, in particular -- I went through a phase reading Ferber's books many moons ago, but have never seen that film.

I also have an unwatched video of THE LADY EVE so I'll be checking that out soon. I enjoyed your review. For my readers, here's the

Best wishes,

11:06 AM  

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