Monday, May 28, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck in prison!

TCM is spending tomorrow morning and afternoon with Barbara Stanwyck for reasons that rather escape me. Her birthday is in July, but I don't think she's getting a birthday salute then. Of course, spending a day with Stanwyck's movies isn't necessarily a bad thing. One of the Stanwyck pre-Codes that I don't think I've ever mentioned before is Ladies They Talk About, which comes on at 10:15 AM.

Stanwyck stars as Nan, the female member of a gang of bank robbers who serves as the gang's decoy. The robbery isn't successful, however, and the gang is caught, which means certain prison for all of them. Well, except maybe for Nan, who has a bit of luck. David (Preston Foster), who was born in the same town as Nan and knows her parents is a radio evangelist who rails against crime. Nan tells David that she's innocent, and David helps enough to get Nan put on probation. That is, until she tells him the truth. When David finds out Nan was the decoy, he has her sent to women's prison.

At this point, the fun begins. I don't know if this was the first of the women's prison movies, although offhand I can't think of an earlier one. There's an elderly prisoner (Maude Eburne) who ran a brothel but calls it a "beauty parlor"; a matron who has a parrot on her shoulder as if she were a pirate or something; and Lillian Roth as the prison who befriends Nan. Roth also sings -- to a fan-mail publicity photo of Joe E. Brown! Oh, and there's the stereotype of the butch lesbian prisoner you don't want to make cross. Oh, the movie isn't a comedy by any means, even if these stereotypes are things we'd laugh about today. The dramatic tension is provided by two plot threads. One is Nan's gang attempting to escape; the other is prisoner Susie (Dorothy Burgess), who has a thing for David and resents that David likes Nan. (Seriously.)

I don't think there's any way Ladies They Talk About will ever be mistaken for Caged. But that doesn't mean that Ladies They Talk About isn't a heck of a lot of fun to watch. And I haven't even mentioned the "what are they thinking" ending. Stanwyck is good here, as she almost always is, and she's supported by a whole bunch of character actors. Two I haven't mentioned yet are Lyle Talbot and Harold Huber as members of Stanwyck's gang. I doubt there's anything resembling accuracy in this movie, but there's a lot resembling entertainment.

Ladies They Talk About doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're either going to have to watch tomorrow's showing, or wait until July 19, when TCM is running an entire day of prison movies.

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