Nan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is part of a gang of bank robbers and when she gets arrested after a robbery, she turns to her childhood friend David Slade (Preston Foster) for help. David is now a famous preacher who rallies for tougher punishments for criminals. She leads him to believe she is innocent, hoping having his approval would help get her off. But when she confesses the truth, David pulls his support and sends Nan up the river.
Nan adjusts pretty well to prison life, but makes an enemy of Susie (Dorothy Burgess), who adores David and is jealous of Nan’s connection to him. Even though Nan is still furious at David for what he’s done to her, he still writes to her regularly. It isn’t long before she finds out that some of her former partners in crime are now in the same prison and one of them is plotting an escape. The only way she can help is if she agrees to talk to David again, and Nan agrees. But when their plan is foiled, Nan ends up spending more time in prison, growing angrier and angrier at David, thinking he’s ratted her out again, not realizing that he was innocent. When she gets released, she wants nothing more than to find David and make him pay for betraying him.
Ladies They Talk About isn’t a particularly great movie. The story is pretty convoluted and far fetched and there’s an odd scene where Lillian Roth serenades a picture of Joe E. Brown. This is definitely the kind of movie you watch just for the pre-codeness of it all because it’s a pretty mediocre movie in every other respect.
The Definitive Pre-Code Moment
As fellow inmate Linda shows Nan around the prison, she points out one inmate, a butch looking woman, and says, “Watch out for her, she likes to wrestle.”
Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code
Ladies They Talk About may not be a particularly great movie, but at least it delivers big time on the pre-code material. The prison scenes are full of gratuitous shots of women in their stockings and garters, plus the aforementioned lesbian inmate. Not to mention that the whole movie is about a criminal who ends up with a happy ending. It even starts with the exact same version of “St. Louis Blues” that was so famously used in Barbara Stanwyck’s other pre-code triumph Baby Face. If I were to pick a theme song for the pre-code era, it would definitely be that particular version of “St. Louis Blues.”