The sexism of old Hollywood romantic comedies is out in full force in Front Page Woman, which casts Bette Davis and George Brent (of course) as a pair of rival newspaper reporters who are also romantically linked. The idea is that Brent's Curt Devlin wants Davis' Ellen Garfield to quit being a reporter and become his stay-at-home wife (because of course women aren't suited to being reporters), and he makes a bet with her that if he can successfully scoop her on a big murder story, she'll agree to step aside and assume her proper place. It's a really distasteful setup that's only worsened as time has passed, and it doesn't help that Brent is at his absolute smarmiest playing Curt, who delights in sabotaging the career of the woman he supposedly loves (right through to getting her fired).
The rampant misogyny makes it hard to enjoy the story, which does have its amusing moments, and is snappily directed by the reliable Michael Curtiz.The fast-talking reporter is a perfect part for Davis, and when she's verbally sparring with Brent or hot on the trail of a scoop, she's quite entertaining to watch. Unfortunately the movie spends equal time with Brent's character, whose glee in destroying his girlfriend's career (and potentially tainting a murder investigation in the process) is the opposite of endearing. Right from the start, as Ellen is joining the reporter boys' club in covering an execution in the first scene, the movie uses serious life-and-death news events as fodder for jokey sexism, which is in poor taste twice over.
At least the ending offers up some acknowledgement that Ellen might have some value beyond becoming a subservient housewife, and doesn't completely undermine her worth as an independent human being. While the entire movie has been about Curt trying to defeat her so that she'll agree to marry him, at the end she scores the final scoop, and he's forced to admit that she's actually a good reporter. And that's when she finally agrees to marry him -- when he's recognized her as an equal, not a conquest. It's not clear whether her agreement involves quitting her job as well, but at least that's left as an open question. It's one positive note to end a movie whose humor and romance have mostly turned sour.