Monday, June 10, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Ladies They Talk About (1933)

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT is an entertaining pre-Code with Barbara Stanwyck as a bad girl sent "up the river" -- up the coast? -- to serve time in San Quentin.

Stanwyck plays Nan, who helps a gang rob a bank. (The crooks include Harold Huber and a rather underused Lyle Talbot.) Before and during her prison term, Nan attracts the interest of crusader David Slade (Preston Foster), a preacher and prospective politician who knew her when they were younger. The clean-cut David can't help falling in love with Nan, despite her unsavory background.

This is mostly a "women in prison" film, with the prison at times seeming more like an unruly sorority house than a women's penal institution. The women decorate their rooms with furniture, dolls, and photos; one woman even has a little dog with her in the prison!

Stanwyck is always interesting, even though she isn't always likeable; prison does little to reform her, and when the situation arises, she immediately agrees to help her old pals in a breakout scheme. She's ultimately overwhelmed by David's love and faith, but one has to wonder if she'll be able to stick to the straight and narrow.

Stanwyck's fellow inmates include friend Lillian Roth (who strangely croons a tune to a photo of Joe E. Brown) and enemy Dorothy Burgess. Ruth Donnelly, a welcome face in any movie, is a kindly prison matron -- who walks around with a bird perched on her shoulder! The film is definitely a pre-Code, with the inmates including a madam (Maude Eburne) and a mannish, cigar-smoking lesbian.

Preston Foster is billed in this as Preston S. Foster. He's very young and earnest, and he seems less assured than he would appear in films just a handful of years later. Some of that might be due to his role as a sincere do-gooder, but I suspect it was also due to his relative lack of experience.

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT was directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley. It was photographed by John Seitz. The film runs a quick 69 minutes.

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT is part of the four-film Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 5 pre-Code collection. The print is quite nice, with just a few speckles here and there. I've previously reviewed another film in the set, MISS PINKERTON (1932).

This film also had a VHS release as part of the Forbidden Hollywood line in 1998.

2021 Update: LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.  My review of the Blu-ray is available here.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I like this one alot. As much as I like Stanwyck, for me Lillian Roth just about steals the show here. Talk about charisma.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Oh that's funny, I'm just going back through your posts and it's a coincidence that I stumbled upon this review as I had seen this film today! I enjoyed the women's prison. Much more lax than modern day. I wonder how much of that was a real representation of a women's jail and how much of that was Hollywood fluff.

I enjoyed this film. I have been craving short 1930s/1940s dramas and this one fit the bill!

5:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Roth was definitely good in this, interesting she didn't become a bigger film star.

Best wishes,

5:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you got to see it too! Like you I wondered how much was Hollywood fantasy. :) Love those fast, snappy pre-Codes! (Although this current weekend as I write, I seem to be on a '50s Columbia noir kick!)

Best wishes,

5:29 PM  

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