The Mad Miss Manton

The Mad Miss Manton is a 1938 American screwball comedy-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.

The Mad Miss Manton
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLeigh Jason
Produced byP. J. Wolfson
Screenplay byPhilip G. Epstein
Story byWilson Collison
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyNicholas Musuraca
Edited byGeorge Hively
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • October 21, 1938 (1938-10-21) (USA)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$716,000[1]

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 Manton 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, the wife of George Lane, a wealthy banker. Inside, Melsa finds a diamond brooch and George'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 Lieutenant, Mike Brent, does nothing to investigate the murder. Peter 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. The women twice attack Ames and tie him up, and Melsa's friend Myra Frost enthusiastically flirts with Peter.

While 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. 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 Edward made his way to and from the crime scene in ten minutes. Edward is captured after confessing to the murders and briefly holding Melsa and Peter hostage at gunpoint.

During the film, the relationship between Melsa and Peter evolves from sharp animosity to love and engagement. He almost immediately decides that he is going to marry her and begins to woo her aggressively. After the police rescue them from Edward, Melsa and Peter plan their honeymoon.


  • Barbara Stanwyck as Melsa Manton, a wealthy socialite 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
  • Miles Mander as Mr. Thomas
  • John Qualen as Subway Watchman
  • George Chandler as Newspaper Man (uncredited)
  • Byron Foulger as Assistant Editor (uncredited)


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


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