Plot: Nan (Barbara Stanwyck) is a hard edged woman who helps her boyfriend in a bank heist, only to be captured and put on trial, where she faces a potential long vacation behind bars. Her cases catches the attention of David (Preston Foster), a preacher with an eye on a political run and more to the point, he grew up with Nan and harbors some feelings toward her. He mounts a defense and lobbies to have her case dismissed, but when she confides in him that she was involved, he drops the defense and she is taken to prison. Nan is quite displeased, as she trusted him to remain by her side and feels betrayed, not to mention determined to settle the score. Now locked up, Nan broods over how things turned out for her, but soon has a lot to think about when David begins to write her, her old boyfriend is imprisoned in the men’s section, and an escape plan starts to roll into motion.
Entertainment Value: If Barbara Stanwyck as a bad ass in a women in prison movie doesn’t sell you on Ladies They Talk About, I don’t know what else to say, as that premise alone is pure cinematic magic. While not as brutal or salacious as the genre would be decades later, this movie offers most of the women in prison tropes, with the kind of grit and attitude you’d expect from pre-code cinema. So yes, this one has crooked guards, prison social politics, and of course, cat fights, but also some film noir style vibes that permeate the narrative. As the movie runs over 70 minutes, it offers a brisk pace and minimal filler, so little time is wasted and Ladies They Talk About isn’t stingy with the wild, memorable scenes. There is a camp element as well, especially in how odd the prison’s rules are and how much freedom prisoners are given, but it is done to further the plot, so it is forgivable. And while the movie does have some grit, it also has a sense of humor when it needs to, so plot holes aren’t a mortal sin. I also love the finale, as it is so wacky and over the top, but makes perfect sense given the character development to that point. I had a blast with Ladies They Talk About and I recommend it to anyone who appreciates Stanwyck or classic cinema in general.
This is a fun movie and one of the main reasons why is Barbara Stanwyck, who is in full on bad ass mode here and makes the most of her character. Stanwyck is a natural when it comes to tough, take no prisoners type characters, so she shines as Nan and of course, seeing her in the women in prison genre is immense fun. She has the charisma and presence to pull off the bad bitch side of the role, while she also puts just enough dark humor in to soften that edge when needed. When she raises her fist, the other prisoners know she means business. Fans of her work will not want to miss Ladies They Talk About, as Stanwyck really makes the most of the spotlight. Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot provide solid supporting roles, but it is Stanwyck who shines the brightest here. She was often able to steal the show from her male costars, so it is no surprise she does just that even with dueling leading men involved. The cast also includes Ruth Donnelly, Dorothy Burgess, and Lillian Roth.