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The Mad Miss Manton

The Mad Miss Manton
File:The Mad Miss Manton.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Leigh Jason
Produced by P. J. Wolfson
Screenplay by Philip G. Epstein
Story by Wilson Collison
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by George Hively
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • October 21, 1938 (1938-10-21) (USA)
Running time
80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $383,000[1]
Box office $716,000[1]

The Mad Miss Manton is a 1938 American screwball comedy and mystery film directed by Leigh Jason and starring Barbara Stanwyck as fun-loving socialite Melsa Manton and Henry Fonda as newspaper editor Peter Ames. Melsa and her debutante friends hunt for a murderer while eating bonbons, flirting with Ames, and otherwise behaving like silly young women. Ames is also after the murderer, as well as Melsa's hand in marriage.

This was the first of three screen pairings for Stanwyck and Fonda, the others being The Lady Eve and You Belong to Me.


At 3:00 am, Melsa (Barbara Stanwyck) takes her little dogs for a walk. Near a subway construction site, she sees Ronnie Belden run out of a house and drive away. The house is for sale by Sheila Lane (Leona Maricle), the wife of George Lane, a wealthy banker. Inside, Melsa finds a diamond brooch and Mr. Lane's dead body. As she runs for help, her cloak falls off with the brooch inside it. When the police arrive, the body, cloak, and brooch are gone. Melsa and her friends are notorious pranksters, so the detective, Lieutenant Mike Brent (Levene), does nothing to investigate the murder. Ames writes an editorial decrying Melsa's "prank", and she sues him for libel.

Melsa and her friends decide they must find the murderer in order to defend their reputation. The resulting manhunt includes searches of the Lane house, Belden's apartment, Lane's business office, and all of the local beauty shops; two attempts to intimidate Melsa; two shooting attempts on her life; a charity ball; and a trap set for the murderer using Melsa as bait. During this time, the women twice attack Ames and tie him up, Melsa's friend Myra enthusiastically flirts with Ames, and their friend Pat eats incessantly. In the course of these events, the following facts emerge:

  • George Lane has been out of town for a week.
  • Sheila Lane hasn't been seen since the day of the murder.
  • Sheila and Belden may be having an affair.
  • Belden's apartment contains the brooch, a knife just like one used to intimidate Melsa, and Belden's dead body.
  • Lane's body is found in Belden's car.
  • George Lane left an insurance policy with his business partner Mr. Thomas as beneficiary.
  • Thomas has been going broke.
  • Someone may have been blackmailing Lane.
  • Sheila was once married to a convict named Edward Norris.
  • Norris was at a hockey game at the time of the murders, but left the game for ten minutes.
  • Norris has a job working for the subway.
  • Traveling from the hockey rink to the Lane house and back requires more than ten minutes using all standard forms of transportation.
  • George Lane recently lost money gambling.
  • Sheila Lane was hiding from the killer.
  • Sheila and Belden met at the Lane house after Lane was killed. They couldn't call the police without exposing their affair, and Belden was killed while moving Mr. Lane's body.

While Brent repeatedly accuses innocent people based on incorrect theories, Melsa deduces that Belden removed the body and cloak from the Lane house before the police arrived. Near the end of the film, an escaping would-be killer leaves behind a piece of tar paper, which reminds Melsa of the subway construction site. Returning to the site, she finds a fast electric cart on the track. This is how Norris made his way to and from the crime scene in ten minutes. Norris is captured after confessing to the murders and briefly holding Melsa and Ames at gunpoint.

During the film, the relationship between Melsa and Ames evolves from sharp animosity to love and marital engagement. Melsa appears to be hostile toward Ames during most of the film, while he almost immediately decides that he's going to marry her and begins to woo her aggressively. She stabs him in the leg with a fork in retaliation for a treacherous trick he played on her, but they have a friendly chat early in the story, and a longer, more heart-to-heart conversation later. After the police rescue them from Norris, the film ends with Melsa and Ames planning their honeymoon.


  • Barbara Stanwyck as Melsa Manton, a wealthy debutante who has organized a pranking club with her friends
  • Henry Fonda as Peter Ames, editor of The Morning Clarion
  • Sam Levene as Lieutenant Mike Brent, a bumbling police detective
  • Frances Mercer as Helen Frayne, Melsa's sensible friend
  • Stanley Ridges as Edward Norris, a convicted murderer
  • Whitney Bourne as Pat James, Melsa's food-loving friend
  • Vickie Lester as Kit Beverly (as Vicki Lester), one of Melsa's friends
  • Ann Evers as Lee Wilson, one of Melsa's friends
  • Catherine O'Quinn as Dora Fenton, Melsa's vapid friend
  • Linda Perry as Myra Frost (as Linda Terry), Melsa's flirtatious friend
  • Eleanor Hansen as Jane, one of Melsa's friends
  • Hattie McDaniel as Hilda (as Hattie McDaniels), Melsa's grumpy housekeeper
  • James Burke as Sullivan, Brent's assistant
  • Paul Guilfoyle as Bat Regan, owner of a gambling house
  • Penny Singleton as Frances Glesk


The film made a profit of $88,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p56

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