The Mad Miss Manton
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Dizzy heiress Melsa Manton and her manicured band of Park Avenue pranksters think Manhattan is an amusement park built just for them. So when Melsa stumbles across a murder victim, the pranksters decide to play detective. The only trouble is that the murderer is playing too - for keeps.
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While I'm not disappointed, it would be fair to say that this fell short of that high watermark. Obviously, what was missing in 'Mad' was the guiding hand of master director Preston Sturges to steer the material into rich waters. Without him at the helm, this production wasn't as sharp. Mind you, this is still a very enjoyable movie. Unfortunately, 'Eve' spoiled me. <g>
In 'Mad' the subject of the movie's title is Ms. Melsa Manton - wealthy young socialite, vivacious bon vivant and all-around troublemaker. She's the alpha amongst her pack of carefree girls; making mischief and having fun, usually one leading to the other.
As the story unfolds, Melsa accidentally stumbles upon a crime scene - a dead body in the vacant home of a family she knows. Terrified, she immediately runs to a police callbox for help. But the arriving officers are less than enthused when they recognize the caller. Having been waylaid by Ms. Manton's previous madcap escapades, they're not interested in playing any games. In fact, the coppers are deciding whether or not to just haul her to jail for a night and maybe teach her a lesson.
But she insists, not a block away, a murdered corpse. So despite their suspicions, which includes standing around at three in the morning with Melsa dressed as Little Miss Muffet, they go to the alleged scene of the crime.
The only person not seriously ticked off - Melsa, who is stunned beyond words. The cops however are not amused. Suddenly, it looks like a night in jail may turn into a real stint in the big house for false reporting of a crime. Again.
Step-in newspaper ace reporter Peter Ames. And like the police, he's had it with these trust fund babies tearing up the town. Going on the offensive, he puts them on notice: No more free rides. All the mayhem and destruction they cause will be duly reported to the public. He's going to put an end to their self-indulgent adventures once and for all. And his most vile contempt is for their pack leader.
Until he actually meets her.
Despite his initial desire to publicly excoriate Melsa and her gang of fellow silver spooners, he can't humiliate her anymore. Love will do that. Plus, the death threats she received are real, so too the assassination attempt on her life - during which Peter himself takes a bullet. So despite all his previous sanctimony, he has to do whatever he can to prevent his would-be-wife from becoming the next victim. Even if that means he has to become her worst enemy by shadowing her every move and turning stool pigeon at every opportunity.
But this is Ms. Melsa Manton, she's no timid flower in distress. Despite the dangers, she's plunging head-on to solve the case. No matter what the cost.
Again, very enjoyable with many laughs and, of course, that wonderful on-screen chemistry of Fonda and Stanwyck.
- Notably, this was filmed during the height of the Great Depression. And it's very difficult to imagine today, but back then audiences loved watching movies about the über wealthy 1%. Lives without any care or worry in the world, free from the horrible reality of brutal work, cold furnaces, bread lines and soup kitchens. Sounds bizarre but that was true back then, and tons of films from this period catered to this odd kind of escapism.
- Mentioned previously, this film is the first of three pairings Henry and Missy did together. Next up for me, from 1941, "You Belong to Me". And I honestly cannot wait.
- Am a monster fan of character actor Sam Levene. During the 1930's, he was often cast as the beleaguered police officer whose constant irritants were three-fold in every movie: 1) Having to correct people about his rank, which was always Lieutenant. 2) Repeatedly berating his junior officers to stop dillydallying or removing themselves from his personal space. 3) Being the butt of much sarcasm, whereupon Sam would produce his famously hilarious double-take.
Where are character actors like that today? So sad that everyone wants to be the lead. Sad for them and sad for us, the audience as we're deprived the likes of Walter Brennan, Elisha Cook Jr., and Eugene Pallette of the silver screen. Although, admittedly, Stephen Root does seem to filling in nicely. But we need more of them.
Stanwyck is Melsa Manton, playgirl extraordinaire, who stumbles across a dead body while walking her designer dogs. The police don't believe her, her friends don't believe her, and the editor of the newspaper (a very handsome Fonda) writes a scathing column about her. What's a ditzy dame to do? Find the murderer, of course, and we get to watch Stanwyck and her pack of society friends run up streets and down streets looking for the killer, all while Fonda and Stanwyck trade barbs, insults and flirty looks. Their chemistry is hot as always, and combined with striking fashions and the gorgeous black and white photography, this is one good-looking film.
"The Mad Miss Manton" isn't perfect--it runs a bit long and meanders towards the end. But I'm rounding it up to 5 stars because the mystery is good, the one-liners top shelf ("You've just done a stretch," Fonda tells an armed intruder, "and if they catch you with that water pistol you're going to get an awful spanking.") and the stars pure Old Hollywood (including a very saucy Hattie McDaniel). The hospital scene where Stanwyck thinks Fonda is dying had got to be one of the funniest scenes in screwball comedy history (I love Fonda wailing that he wants "to smell the good earth!" while the police sing "Home on the Range"). If you like classic films (particularly "The Lady Eve", "My Man Godfrey" and the like) feel free to buy this unseen. You will love it.
(A+ for Barbara's evening gowns and Fonda in a tuxedo. Those were the days!)