Ladies They Talk About

Dullsville

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Prison sure was different in the 1930s. Sure, men still had cells with bars on them and bunk beds within, and apparently marched everywhere they went, but for women, the penitentiary was like a mini community but one from which you could not leave. In Ladies They Talk About we get a surprising look at what imprisonment meant for female offenders. Barbara Stanwyck spends most of the story behind bars after assisting a bank robbery for a load of gangsters.

Stanwyck’s Nan Taylor could have fought to maintain her innocence in the crime, but a man from her home town –now a big-time political preacher in the big city– falls for her. Their kiss inspires Nan to tell David Slade (Preston Foster) the truth about the robbery, which he finds staggeringly upsetting. She therefore admits her crime to the district attorney and away for two to five years she goes.

In the clink she gives up her fur and fine dress for a plain frock, although not a uniform. The women in here have made themselves a comfortable lifestyle, complete with beauty shop services, rocking chairs and a socialite with a lap dog. The cells are private apartments with windowless doors, which the girls have adorned with photos of their favorite celebrities. Nan keeps a picture of Slade to remind her of the hatred she feels for him. Her newly found arch enemy inside, however, keeps several photos of the man out of adoration.

Nan refuses to see Slade, who writes to her regularly and stops by every visiting day. Around the same time she learns that the man is actually trying to help her get an early release, she has also been contacted by her former partner in crime, Lefty (Harold Huber). Two other members of the gang have been pinched and reside in the men’s prison on the other side of Nan’s wall. They have a plan to dig their way out, with her help.

Upon seeing Slade for the first time, Nan allows for the reestablishment of their romance and slips a letter to Lefty into the man’s pocket. Slade later finds the note and drops it into the mail. But Lefty is in local lock-up and his forwarded letter gets opened by the warden, who then traces it back to Nan. She assumes Slade ratted on her.

Ladies They Talk About is interesting to the degree it shows some version of life inside a women’s prison. On the other hand, however, it tries to drive some sort of romantic yarn through the plot even though Stanwyck’s character has shown only loathing or tolerance for the man who unreasonably adores her. Stanwyck’s performance is lack-luster. At the start she shows shades of bad acting in instances when Nan is herself putting on a show for the authorities. This is nevertheless frustrating to watch.

None of the other characters offer anything special. Foster is milquetoast and oft-criminal Huber is in so few scenes as to make his presence nearly unnoticeable. Dorothy Burgess as Susie –the Slade-lover, Nan-hater– attracts some degree of interest. She looks like a less interesting Tallulah Bankhead and is as obnoxious as she is meant to be.

There are plenty of other flicks in which to see Stanwyck playing the hard-boiled blonde or brunette and/or the sex pot, but Ladies They Talk About should not be sought out for that reason. Sit down with Baby Face instead.

  • Ladies They Talk About is set for 2:15 p.m. ET Dec. 20 on TCM.
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Love Before Breakfast

Ring a Ding Ding

Love Before Breakfast (1936)

     I’ve been working my way through a Netflixed Carole Lombard box set and so have felt myself moving through a series of lackluster flicks featuring the female love of my life. At last, however, I have landed on one that left me sighing at how beautiful and entertaining this dame was. Love Before Breakfast (which might have the greatest movie poster every designed), is a story that has nothing to do with breakfast, but everything to do with resisting love.

     We first meet Scott Miller (Preston Foster) who in his large office makes multiple requests of his secretary to book a Kay Colby for either lunch or dinner, but is repeatedly told the girl is booked with a Mr. Bill Wadsworth (Cesar Romero). Bill works for Amalgamated Oil, which Scott’s company has just purchased. Looking to get this fiancée of the girl he adores out of the picture, Scott sends him to a new site in Japan. This all happens within the first few minutes of the film so we can quickly be thrown into the thrust of the plot: Scott and Kay’s nonexistent romance.

     Saying farewell to her beau at the dock, Kay is overwhelmed with tears (she clearly does not know Bill is cheating on her). Scott takes her for coffee, but upon learning the lengths to which this man has gone to get rid of the fiancée, she turns on her heel and takes off for a bar. Scott, perhaps the most persistent man in film, follows Kay and while arguing with some younger men hitting on Kay, starts a brawl. The bar owner extinguishes the lights and Kay takes a right hook in the eye from Scott (thus the poster).

     Kay continues to resist Scott (whom everyone seems to call by his full name) even though her mother, who lives with her as a seemingly subordinate member of the household, has been rooting for him for some time. Upon writing to Bill about why he was sent to Japan, Kay learns the man is more concerned with his career than their relationship, but still she is not swayed by Scott. Eventually, Kay, whom we know to be truly in love with the male protagonist, tells the man she will marry him for his money (and he presents her with three engagement rings), but is too stubborn to divulge any love. An adorable moment occurs when Scott demands they seal the arrangement with a kiss. Lombard stretches her mouth and nose apart in a look of tolerance against what she pretends to be an unpleasant act.

     Getting some advice from an older bachelor working at his company, Scott decides to bring Bill back to the states and release Kay from the engagement. The plan is to get her to admit she does love him and no longer wants her ex, but Kay is a tough nut to crack and fights the whole ordeal tooth and nail until the last second.

     I’m not sure what was different about Lombard in Love Before Breakfast, but I found her absolutely stunning. Her makeup was very flattering and the wardrobe by Travis Bantonwas to die for. I regret that the long, silky, slinky styles of the 1930s are one vintage look that seems dead set on staying out of vogue and therefore unattainable. Whenever I dream of such gowns, I always think of Lombard. The independent wealth of Kay’s family that allows such a lavish look is undisclosed as the plot rushes into the most important aspects of the story, but it does not really matter. Suffice it to say, no actual marriage for money motivations in this film.

     I would not say Lombard is at her funniest in Love Before Breakfast, but she brings plenty of humor to the role. She was great at playing strong, stubborn women who refuse to be pushed around by men. And although she argues right through the marriage ceremony in this flick, we know the romantic bond between the two parties is strong enough to melt away the pride.

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