Time to kick off the New Year with something I’ll not be able to outdo: the best fur fashion film of all time: The Mad Miss Manton. I was wavering on that opinion because I hadn’t really seen it in a while, but now that I’ve dug through almost every frame with a glistening guard hair in it, I feel I can safely end all doubt. It’s all here, quality, variety, and length. If there’s something better than this, well… I desperately want to see it.
The Mad Miss Manton – The Film
The Mad Miss Manton is somewhat a mix of genres, and perhaps that’s part of the magic that made it what it was. It’s one-half madcap heiress, one-half gentle(wo)man detective, multiplied by 1938, to the seventh power. Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck (I have the book) as one of Hollywood’s few alliterative miss-fires, Melsa Manton and her flock of seven fashionable friends in a murder mystery. Melsa finds a dead body in the house for sale reports it to the police, but she and her friends’ reputation as pranksters leads the police to do nothing when they arrive to find the body missing. The ladies decide to solve the case to clear their good names, which are being splashed on the paper’s editorial page by Peter Ames (Henry Fonda).
The Mad Miss Manton – The Furs
Where to begin…? Melsa and her friends swim through an ocean of furs in the film, almost all foxes in some form or another. Mink, lynx, and even ermine are ably represented as well. The fur garments come in all forms, from full-length coats to jackets, wraps, and muffs. It’s a virtual catalog of glorious deco fur fashions from the late ’30s.
Enter Melsa Manton. At this point, Miss Manton has found the body, been blown off by the police, and suffered a scathing editorial in the paper about her “prank” written by her opposite in this scene, Peter Ames. She arrives in the film’s first fur, a dress with silver fox cuffs, a rather conservative start.
Melsa’s girlfriends don’t all appear in furs at once. We start off with… okay, here’s the deal. Melsa has seven members of her little “posse,” and, I checked, 2 of them are never called by name. This is one of them, the process of elimination indicates this is either “Lee” or “Jane.” Judging by what I could find on the net, I’m calling this Ann Evers as Lee, who starts the fox train rolling with a big black fox jacket.
She throws a white fox wrap atop Myra (Linda Perry).
This leads shortly to the girls having donned their first set of sleuthing furs. This is, left to right, Kit in a white fox jacket, Helen in a silver fox wrap, Melsa in her signature crystal fox coat, Lee in the black fox stroller, and Myra holding her white fox wrap. Five large fox coats are on screen at once. I can stop here, right?
Miss Stanwyck’s crystal fox coat is notable not only because it’s the largest fox in the film and lovingly documented, but from a fashion perspective, the coat is very similar to many white fox coats of the day that I’ve documented in previous updates. The broad shoulders and lack of a collar are instantly familiar, and it would be a few pelts short of Irene Dunne’s famous coat from The Awful Truth if it were white.
Dora (Catherine O’Quinn) is wearing an ermine jacket that was less visible in the previous group shot. There’s actually another ermine jacket in this shot as well, but Helen and Lee’s fox furs are covering up Pat’s jacket.
There’s Pat (Whitney Bourne) and her ermine fur jacket as the ladies investigate the abandoned house where Melsa found the body. Pat has a bit of an eating disorder that’s handled with the utmost respect and dignity by the film… or not.
This part of the film is a bit noir-ish, with the ladies moving in darkness, catching conveniently located shafts of light as they poke around the house in their large fur coats and experience a scare or two.
Later the girls continue sleuthing to their prime suspect’s house, allowing for yet another group shot.
Melsa finds a photo of the deceased wife. She wears a silver fox collared coat that she is apparently rather fond of, as we’ll learn later. Even the still photos have fur in this movie.
They find the body of their prime suspect in the apartment, but efforts to report it to the police are in vain since the police already don’t believe them, so they drop the body off at the newspaper, which eventually leads to their “arrest.” The ladies have changed their sleuthing furs to their much more conservative “being arrested” furs.
Melsa and Helen both have full-length minks, while Dora does put some effort into it with a large fox collar.
Though I’m not quite as big a fan of it as her fox, here’s a nicely framed shot of Barbara Stanwyck in mink, which I’m sure will be appreciated.
Later, Melsa and Helen (Frances Mercer) engage in a little solo adventure away from the rest of the posse. Sadly Melsa’s fox is MIA, but Helen keeps things interesting with her white fox wrap.
The girls reunite further along in the film with yet another selection of furs; principally notable is Myra’s fox collar and large matching fox muff.
Dora shows up later with another fox collar.
As does Mr. Ames, who is about to be subdued and restrained by Melsa and her girls, one of many times that happens in this film.
Later on the street, the girls are out sleuthing again in this set, with Melsa having added a short fox jacket to her wardrobe, and Pat’s silver fox stole more visible.
Again a little later, we have another set of furs. Here Kit lays atop a lynx jacket and Helen on a large silver fox muff. Everybody keeping up? There will be a quiz later.
Pat gets a bit of a solo scene on the phone with Melsa, wearing what I’ll assume is a black fox coat accessorized nicely with the veiled hat.
Eventually, we arrive at the showcase sequence for Barbara Stanwyck and her large crystal fox fur coat, where Mr. Ames pretends to be not long for this world to get Melsa to confess an important piece of evidence.
Miss Stanwyck and the fox coat are showcased perfectly here. Melsa eventually becomes wise to the ruse, eliciting an expression that does not bode well for Peter Ames.
She liberally applies a fork to Mr. Ames’s buttocks. Say what you will about the film’s place in cinema history, but it is likely the only time Henry Fonda is stabbed in the butt with a fork.
That crucial piece of evidence was the location of the original deceased’s wife, Shelia Lane (Leona Maricle), who you’ll remember from the photo earlier, especially since she seems to be wearing the same silver fox collar.
As Melsa has been causing trouble for the killer and already survived attempts on her life, a plan is hatched to draw the killer out. While this plan is hatched, Melsa brings along a large black fox muff, which, sadly, is one of the furs that is not well filmed. The black fox goes great with the outfit, but not with late 30’s camera technology.
After dinner with Ames, Melsa takes this silver fox wrap on the 30’s equivalent of a dungeon crawl, heading down into the subway as she puts some of the pieces together and looks for more evidence. This is a long sequence, and she wears the silver fox almost non-stop until the film’s end.
For what it’s worth, this guy did it:
The girls show up one last time in yet another set of furs. Myra has a silver fox collar, Dora, an ermine muff, Helen an ermine jacket, and yet more.
The film ends with a bit of a deus ex machina, with the killer taken out in the lobby by a police sniper and no direct intervention from Melsa, Ames, or any other major character. Seems someone wrote themselves into a corner. Yeah, like I care. No one will remember The Mad Miss Manton as a high point in filmmaking. The film is a stunning collection of fur fashions played out en masse. Whereas most of the films from this period I profile have only one fur on screen at once, this one gives us four or five at once.
Oddly, my biggest beef with the film isn’t anything to do with the furs; it’s with Miss Manton herself, who was a bit of a victim of what seemed to be “alliteration at any cost.” Melsa? What a horrible name. Apologies to anyone named Melsa… you have my sympathies. Mary, Madeline, Meghan, Michelle, so many better options.
Oh, and there were no fur hats. The film could have used some hats.
The onscreen ratio is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s in the neighborhood of the other heavyweight champion, Forever Lulu.
Fur Runtime: approx 33 minutes
Film Runtime: 80 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 41%
In honor of the occasion, this gallery is much larger than usual, about 76 total, so enjoy: