Preston Foster

Pre-Code Essentials: Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Ladies They Talk About 1933Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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.”

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Ladies They Talk About 1933 Barbara StanwyckNan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested after helping some friends rob a bank, but before her trial, she meets with David Slade (Preston Foster), a former classmate.  David is now a well-known preacher and very vocal about wanting harsher punishments for criminals.  When he sees Nan again, she tells him that she’s innocent and because he’s very attracted to her, he starts declaring her innocent to all of his followers.  But just as she’s about to be granted parole, she confesses the truth to David and she is sent to San Quentin instead.

Nan adjusts pretty well to prison life.  Even though she doesn’t get along with Susie (Dorothy Burgess), who is a big fan of David’s and very jealous of her connection to him, she’s generally well liked by the other prisoners and finds a good friend in Linda (Lillian Roth).  David writes to Nan, begging her to let him come visit her, but she just ignores all his letters.  One day, she gets a visit from her old friend Lefty (Harold Huber), who was part of that bank robbery, and finds out that their other cohorts Don and Dutch are in prison now, too.  Lefty is working on a plan to break them out of there, but needs Nan’s help.  She agrees to help, but she also finally agrees to see David again.

When David comes to see her, she gives David a letter to mail for her, and not thinking anything of it, he does.  The letter was to Lefty, which contained important information about the escape plan, and it ends up in the hands of the police and the whole plan is foiled.  Nan is furious with David because she thinks he deliberately ratted her out and now she has to stay in prison for another year.  When she finally does get out, she’s out for revenge.

Even though Ladies They Talk About is one of the more well-known pre-codes, I really wouldn’t call it a great movie.  The story is rather muddled and sometimes is just plain odd.  There’s one scene where Lillian Roth sings a song to a picture of Joe E. Brown.  When I recorded this, there was a cable interruption in the middle of it, so I missed about two minutes of the movie, but when it came back on, all of a sudden, there was Lillian Roth singing to Joe E. Brown and I was very confused. I have absolutely no idea why that happened so if someone could please fill me in on that, I’d appreciate it.

I’m no expert on prison escapes, but I’m pretty sure the escape attempt seen in this movie is one of the worst ones of all time.  Mostly because so much of it involves making a lot of noise late at night when it’s supposed to be dead quiet.  First, the guy knocks along the wall to find Nan’s cell.  Nobody else heard a lot of strange knocking coming from the wall?  Then, to drown out the noise of him trying to break through the wall, Nan starts playing music.  For some reason, no guard finds it at all suspicious that one of the inmates is suddenly playing loud music late at night. One way Nan helps with the escape plan is to make an imprint of an important key in a bar of soap, traces the outline, and sends it to Lefty.  I don’t know how the lady didn’t notice that one of her keys was suddenly very soapy.  Actually, you know what? I take back what I said about this escape plan being terrible.  It’s not so stupid if the prison staff is this completely oblivious.