Movies about journalism from the 1930s are always fun. It’s great to see how my chosen profession worked at such a frenetic pace, even before computers, the Internet and everything else that is supposed to make reporting easier. But the fact is, news has always moved faster than a speeding bullet and competitors have always been trying to one-up each other. Few newspaper comedies make that more obvious than Michael Curtiz’s Front Page Woman (1935), starring Bette Davis and George Brent.
The film is a simple battle of the sexes, set in a newsroom. Ellen Garfield (Davis) works for one paper, while Curt Devlin (Brent) is at the other. At the start, it’s clear that Curt has always been after Ellen’s heart. So, Ellen hatches a plan – they will get married if Ellen can prove that she’s just as good a newspaperman as he is. That sounds a bit archaic in today’s world, but hey, it’s 1935… and the book the script is based on was actually called (I kid you not) Women Are Bum Newspapermen.
The case they duel over is a murder. They each try to get one step ahead of the other and Ellen gets the last laugh. Of course, she’s not really doing this to prove to herself that she’s great, but to prove to Curt that she can be a reporter. Apparently, even though she’s an independent woman, she still needs the approval of a man.
Curtiz directs the film as if he has a timer on the set, which is the case for many of his ’30s films. He has to get this entire story over with in 82 minutes and if it means creating some ellipses in the story, so be it. There’s a lot that goes on off-camera and has to be explained through headlines. But of course, the murder trial is the McGuffin of the piece, only existing to drive Ellen and Curt together. So, it’s OK for Curtiz to leave some of the dirty details on the cutting room floor.
Front Page Woman was released by Warner Archive in 2013. The disc includes a delightful trailer, with Bette and George talking about promoting the film. It’s bits like that that make me love the Golden Age of Hollywood. These two were stuck working together a lot and it’s clear that they had great chemistry on the screen.
For me, this movie was a blast. I just love ’30s comedies like these, with great talent. Plus, Roscoe Karns just kills it in every scene. He’s hilarious, as is the movie itself.