One of the best things of start digging into older films that are not part of the classic canon is that you never know exactly what to expect. These are films that very few people have seen them, or talk about, and they can turn into anything. Such is the case for “Front Page Woman”, a 1935 Bette Davis/George Brent comedy directed by Michael Curtiz. Both stars were on the way up, but they weren’t quite there yet – Davis had had a hit with “Of Human Bondage”, but not yet her first Oscar for “Dangerous” and arguably Brent never really got there. So I tossed the dice and it turned out to be good enough.
Two reporters in rival newspapers (Davis and Brent) are perpetually engaged and she will only accept marriage if he admits she’s as good a newspaperman as he is. Then a murder investigation triggers a series of double crossings as each tries to outdo the other – at stake, not their careers but an “I do”.
Fast dialogue, double crossings (mostly on the man’s part), attempts to outdo each other and journalists, and it is hard not to think of “His Girl Friday” which Hawks directed five years down the line. And there are similarities. But “Front Page Woman” holds on its own. Of course, it’s the weaker of the two, but it’s still very funny. I would venture that it has my favourite pre-“Jezebel” Bette Davis performance. And to my surprise, it has a really funny performance from George Brent, who I have mentioned not a few times before in this blog as a very, very limited actor, someone non-threatening enough to be paired with nearly all the leading ladies of the studio system – if the leading man is George Brent (or Herbert Marshall, for that matter) you can be sure the film is all about the leading lady.