Mad Miss Manton, The (1938): Screwball Comedy-Mystery, Starring Stanwyck and Fonda in their First Teaming

The Mad Miss Manton was the first of three screen pairings of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, followed by The Lady Eve (the best of the trio) and You Belong to Me.

Leigh Jason directed this  screwball comedy-mystery about a fun-loving socialite Melsa Manton and newspaper editor Peter Ames.

Melsa and her debutante friends hunt for a murderer while eating bonbons, flirting with Ames, and otherwise behaving like silly women.

Late one night, when Melsa Manton is walking her dogs, she spots Ronnie Belden run out of a house and drive away. The house is up for sale by Sheila Lane, the wife of George Lane, a wealthy banker. Inside, Melsa finds a diamond brooch and George’s dead body.¬† Running for help, her cloak falls off with the brooch inside it. When the police arrive, the body, cloak, and brooch are all gone.

Since Melsa and her friends are known pranksters, Lieutenant Mike Brent does not investigate the murder. But Peter Ames writes an editorial decrying Melsa’s “prank,” and she sues him for libel.

To defend their reputation, Melsa and friends must find the murderer, a manhunt that includes searches of Lane’s house and office, Belden’s apartment, and even the local beauty shops.

In the process, there are two attempts to intimidate Melsa, two shooting, a charity ball, and a trap for the murderer with Melsa as bait. The women twice attack Ames and tie him up, and Melsa’s friend Myra Frost flirts with Peter.

Mike repeatedly accuses innocent people based on incorrect theories, Melsa deduces that Ronnie removed the body and cloak from the Lane house before the police arrived.

A would-be killer leaves behind a piece of tar paper, which reminds Melsa of the subway construction site. Returning to the site, she finds an electric cart on the track, which enabled Edward to make his way to and from the crime scene quickly. Captured after confessing to the murders, Peter holds Melsa and Peter hostage.

In the last scene, the place is invaded by the police and all of Melsa’s girfriends, telling the murderer: “If you kill her, you’ll have to kill all of us.”

Meanwhile, the duo go through the familiar screwball conventions, starting with feelings of animosity and progressing to sentiments of love, engagement, and honeymoon plans (in South America!).