Friday, November 1, 2013

Three years before The Lady Eve

Now that we're in a new month, we get a new Friday Night Spotlight; with tnoight being the first Friday in November, that spotlight begins tonight: screwball comedies, presented by Matthew Broderick. This first week of the spotlight focuses on screwball comedies in which journalism plays a major role. I presume that Broderick is only introducing the first four movies each night, with TCM having added extra movies to round out the night's lineup. I've blogged about the first four movies before, but the fifth, surprise surprise, also happens to be a screwball comedy with a newspaperman as a main character: The Mad Miss Manton, overnight at 3:00 AM.

Barbata Stanwyck plays Melsa Manton, a ditzy socialite of the type who populated a whole bunch of these screwball comedies. She's got a bunch of ditzy socialite friends who, thankfully, don't so Sex and the City-type things, but instead call themselves the "Park Avenue Pranksters". Only this time, they're about to find out that when you pull pranks, people are going to stop believing you. This is a problem because, when they see that something untoward might have happened as the house of a married couple of acquaintances, they find a dead body and a diamond brooch! Ah, this is a case for the police, led by detective Brent (Sam Levene). He goes back to the house with the women -- but the body has disappeared! So, unsurprisingly, Brent thinks he's been pranked.

Sharing that belief is one Peter Ames (Henry Fonda), who works for the daily Clarion newspaper. He writes a story decrying people like Miss Manton and her pranking the good people of they city. Manton goes to Ames to complain, and even though at first they don't like each other, you know that by the end of the movie they're going to end up in love. It wouldn't be a screwball comedy if this didn't happen.

Meanwhile, there's still that dead body that Manton and her friends all know they've seen, but can't find. What is a bunch of ditzy socialites who aren't to be believed by the police and the press to do? Why, investigate the case themselves! They eventually find another dead body, and bringing that one to the Clarion gets people to believe that there may actually be something going on. Manton and Peter wind up investigating the case more or less together and solving it, more or less, before the police do.

You'll note that I haven't talked much about the murder case, at least not in any specifics. That's because it's really a Macguffin on which to hang the budding relationship between Manton and Ames. It could just as easily have been somebody running away to elope (It Happened One Night, kicking the night off at 8:00 PM), or a phony case of radiation poisoning (Nothing Sacred, up fourth at 1:30 AM), bringing out reporter and lady together. It's a formula, to be sure, and one that worked a lot in the 1930s. It does work here, but only because of the talents of Stanwyck and Fonda, who were good at playing their respective roles of comic center and aw-shucks foil in a a lot of movies together and apart.

Movie mavens will want to watch out for Vickie Lester playing Kay; Penny Singleton, the future Blondie to Arthur Lake's Dagwood, playing Frances; and John Qualen showing up in a subway scene toward the end. The Mad Miss Manton has received a DVD release from the Warner Archive Collection, too.

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