Ellen Garfield (Bette Davis), reporter for The Daily Star, is loved by rival ace reporter, Curt Devlin (George Brent), of The Daily Express. While Ellen is just another gal reporter to many, she wants to show she can be just as good a reporter than any man in the business, particularly Curt. One of her first big assignments is covering the execution of showgirl, Mabel Gaye at North Prison, for the murder of her lover. With Ellen feeling ill following the execution, Curt covers up for her, unwittingly producing both his and her story to both newspapers word for word. Spike Riley (Joseph Crehan), her editor, decides to give Ellen another chance to redeem herself by offering her another assignment, this time covering a four-alarm fire at the Granger Arms apartments. Unable to get through the police lines by Officer Hallohan (J. Farrell MacDonald), in spite that Curt and his photographer assistant, "Toots" O'Grady (Roscoe Karns) are able to get through to get their stories, Ellen soon notices Maitland Coulter (Gordon Westcott) escorting the injured Broadway producer, Marvin Q. Stone (Huntley Gordon) out of the burning building and into a cab hailed by Hallohan. Before taking off, Ellen overhears them talking about some mystery woman sneaking out the back way. Ellen's hunches lead her to the Plaza Hospital where she locates Stone, registered there under an assumed name of James Craig, who had died of a stab wound. With enough evidence regarding his murder, Ellen does some further investigating of her own by going after the mystery woman identified as Inez Cordoza (Winifred Shaw), and get herself a real good scoop before Curt or anybody else does. Others in the cast include: Walter Walker (Judge Ritchard); J. Carroll Naish (Robert Cordoza, Inez's brother); Dorothy Dare (Mae LaRue); June Martel (Olive Wilson), Addison Richards (District Attorney), Mary Treen, Selmar Jackson and Mary Foy in smaller roles. Interestingly, FRONT PAGE WOMAN did get a chance to have Glenda Farrell tackle the Davis role three years later as part of the "Torchy Blane" mystery series titled BLONDES AT WORK (1938) opposite Barton MacLane. Though Winifred Shaw is best known for her singing roles, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a rare change of pace in a dramatic performance.
With Davis, still youthful and blonde, learning her acting craft from the bottom up, FRONT PAGE WOMAN offers her a good assignment assuming the role similar to her own personality - that of an ambitious woman needed to be taken seriously in what she does. Being a grand mix of drama with sappy dialogue, FRONT PAGE WOMAN is also fast-pace newspaper story with few lulls in between. For a Bette Davis movie, there is a long stretches where he's absent for ten plus minutes in favor of investigative reporting provided by George Brent and Roscoe Karns (the comedy relief). Though the "Toots" role could have been enacted by Warners resident "second banana" Frank McHugh, Roscoe Karns' interpretation as the photographer offers a different but welcoming feel for this production. One of the more memorable moments in humor that occurs both here and BLONDES AT WORK is during the trial where reporters overhear paper boys outside the courthouse yelling the headlines reading both "Guilty" and "Not Guilty" before the actual verdict is to be read aloud. It's interesting in movies such as this how quickly headlines with full stories go to press and on the news stands in bundles twenty minutes after story is called in to the quick rewrite rather as opposed to the following day.
Available on DVD, FRONT PAGE WOMAN, which used to broadcast regularly on commercial television's late show during the 1960s and 70s, can be found on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. The 83 minute production does overall offer a fine viewing of Davis and Brent a few years before their prime pairing of DARK VICTORY (1939), often hailed as their finest collaboration of eleven movies together. Read all about it! (***)