By now, everyone knows I love old movies. I take special delight in the early 1930s stuff where you see stars and character actors while they were very young and just establishing their screen personae. Barbara Stanwyck is a particular favorite. She had “it” from the beginning. A tough woman who could handle macho fellas like Cooper, Cagney, Gable, Bogie, Eddie G, and so on, but she was also deft at comedy, honing her hard edges. She was likeable even when playing the big cons in those Preston Sturges farces.
This is a long lead into watching a real dog of a movie last night. It was my bedtime film, “Ladies They Talk About” (Warner Brother, 1933). It was a pre-code, women-in-prison flick which grabbed onto every cliché with a death grip and never let go. It didn’t miss a single cliché. There was the wrongly convicted “nice” girl, the crusty “Marie Dressler” hard timer, the bull dykes played with gusto, the wily Italians; the crafty Jewish cons and, yes, the Black inmates all singing (off camera) spirituals while on death row.
How bad was this movie? It had two directors, 4 or 5 screenwriters, and a suitcase of AD’s. This had to be Stanwyck’s first or second shot at playing the tough dame who sticks by her villainous sidekicks — including the ever-lame Lyle Talbot. A very young Preston Foster is the crusading good guy who carries a torch for Babs even though she “burns” him several times. For example, here’s a scene so bad it would make Max Bialystock cringe. Barbara Stanwyck and two cohorts, all chewing gum and looking fierce, walk in tandem towards Lillian Roth (yes, that Lillian Roth) who is a smarmy 2-faced bitch of an inmate.
The dialogue was utterly cringe-worthy and you have to remember, I normally relish 1930s Warner Brothers prison movies.
I kept asking myself, “Why are you watching this? It’s AWFUL. It’s bottom of the barrel bad.” Yet somehow, I couldn’t turn it off. I believe my mouth was wide open in disbelief. I was transfixed by the awfulness of the movie. Speaking of dogs and adding insult to injury, Duke, our furry prince, was sharing the bed, nestled next to me, smelling like “dumpster dog.” So as I watched the incredibly lousy movie, Duke unloaded a series of farts that made me think I was trapped in the twilight zone. Sweet Jesus!
I figured the movie would at least give me an appropriate ending with Stanwyck’s bad girl getting what she deserved. Nope because, in the blur of a second Stanwyck and Preston Foster (after Stanwyck tries to kill him) are hugging and kissing with marriage hovering on the horizon. It had to be karma for my adoration of happy endings. I got it. So, all ye old movie mavens? Be warned.
Avoid “Ladies They Talk About.” Trust me, should you watch it, you’ll be talking about it.