The Mad Miss Manton (1938) – reviewed by George

A young debutante, Miss Susan Manton (played by Barbara Stanwyck), arrives home from an NYC costume party, with a floor-length light-weight evening cape covering her costume, and is met at the door of her apartment building by the doorman, holding the leashes of her two dogs. They chat briefly, and she leaves to walk the dogs. She sees a young man she knows run out of a large building, the Lane Home, jump in a car, and speed away. She calls to him, but he doesn’t acknowledge her. She turns and enters the Lane Home – windows boarded up and For Sale signs displayed. She finds a valuable-looking jeweled clip – and the body of a murdered man. She flees just as the young man did, but her cape catches on a door and is pulled off. She does not stop; she continues running with her costume now exposed. It’s very frilly and short, and she looks as if she’s meant to be a young girl at her catechism or possibly a flower girl at a relative’s wedding. She calls the police and when they arrive she goes back in the house with them, to discover that two things are missing: her cape with the clip pinned to it and the body.
As with all entertainments, whether films or books, she tells her story very badly, leaving out the clip and the young man who ran away. But with the cops’ negative reaction to her, basically because of her youth and station (and the frilly costume), the film becomes a comedy of class, with eight debs (Miss Manton and seven of her friends) against both the police and a young newspaper editor, played by Henry Fonda.
The murder is solved (did you doubt it?), but the road to attraction, conciliation, and eventual romance is not paved; it’s a rutted, muddy, dirt road, with big rocks of laughter for the young couple to flatten their tires on.
With a screen play by Philip G. Epstein, from a story by Wilson Collison, and directed by Leigh Jason, this is a very good (and funny) movie.

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