When one thinks of Barbara Stanwyck one usually thinks of heavy drama — melodrama — or perhaps all those pre-code films about racy women. One doesn’t think of comedy.
And yet the lovely (and very sexy) actress of real strength and genuine versatility graced the silver screen in many comedies: 1941’s Ball of Fire (in which she provided slang instructions to Gary Cooper), 1945’s Christmas in Connecticut (with Sydney Greenstreet in the cast), and 1941’s The Lady Eve to name just a few.
One of Joe’s favorite’s is another comedy she made with Henry Fonda (besides Eve and You Belong to Me) — The Mad Miss Manton. This 1938 film, the first with Fonda, is a quintessential screwball comedy. And it was released the same year and by the same studio — RKO — as Bringing Up Baby, the Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant opus!
We won’t spoil it for you by giving away any of the plot except to say it’s loony. The lines come fast and furious. Penny Singleton (who later played Blondie in the long running series) has a supporting part and Sam Levene portrays the stereotypical harried police detective.
A nice touch is that the movie’s humorous element is neatly linked to mystery, an appealing combination. The director is Leigh Jason, and the movie is available on DVD via the Warner Brothers Archive collection.
The Mad Miss Manton is just one of Stanwyck’s more than 100 movie and tv titles. Her film career began in the late Twenties and lasted until 1964. She then emerged a big star on television creating strong roles in such tube series as The Big Valley, Wagon Train, The Thorn Birds, Dynasty and The Colbys.
Stanwyck, who smoked like a chimney, proved personally durable as well. She died in 1990 of emphysema at the ripe age of 82.
In The Mad Miss Manton, Stanwyck is young, sexy and feisty.