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The hard-boiled dames locked up at San Quentin State Penitentiary are
some of the LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT.
Barbara Stanwyck stars in this very enjoyable pre-Code crime drama
which takes a Hollywood look at women's lives behind bars. The acting
is strictly of the ham variety, with a few histrionics, some
heart-string tugging and a surprisingly large dollop of comedy thrown
in. Some of the plot developments are absolutely ludicrous, but the
viewer should never get bored.
Stanwyck is terrific as the female member of a small-time gang of
crooks. Prison gives her a chance to get really tough in order to deal
with her situation, but the audience always knows that just a few
moments with the right man will have her (rather unconvincingly)
melting like butter. Whether brawling with a vicious inmate, assisting
in an escape attempt, or going gunning for the guy she thinks betrayed
her, Stanwyck is always right on the money for entertainment value.
Three female costars give Stanwyck some great support in the prison
scenes. Lillian Roth, as the lighthearted inmate who befriends Barbara,
nearly steals the show with her perky personality; she gives the movie
one of its brightest moments when she croons 'If I Could Be With You'
to a fan photo of comic Joe E. Brown. Frowzy Maude Eburne is a hoot as
a bawdy former madam who likes to reminisce about her old 'beauty
parlor' from the comfort of her rocking chair. Good-natured Ruth
Donnelly is a nice addition, in a small role, as an Irish matron with a
big white parrot.
Preston Foster, as a reform revivalist who remembers Stanwyck from
their childhood together in Benicia, California, gives an earnest
performance, stalwart & steady. Lyle Talbot and Harold Huber appear as
members of Stanwyck's gang. Elderly Robert McWade makes the most of his
performance as Los Angeles' wily District Attorney.
Movie mavens will spot some fine character actors appearing unbilled:
rotund DeWitt Jennings as a cagey police detective; Helen Ware as the
no-nonsense prison head matron; Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Mustard, the sassy
prisoner who's terrified of parrots; Robert Warwick as San Quentin's
stern warden. And that's dear Mary Gordon who appears for only a few
scant seconds as a laughing white-haired inmate in the Visiting Room.
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