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The Big House (1930)

Passed  |   |  Crime, Drama, Romance  |  14 June 1930 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 1,185 users  
Reviews: 19 user | 20 critic

A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences.


(as George Hill) , (uncredited)


(story), (additional dialogue) (as Joe Farnham) , 1 more credit »
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Title: The Big House (1930)

The Big House (1930) on IMDb 7.2/10

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Won 2 Oscars. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
George F. Marion ...
J.C. Nugent ...
Mr. Marlowe
DeWitt Jennings ...
Matthew Betz ...
Gopher (as Mathew Betz)
Mrs. Marlowe
Robert Emmett O'Connor ...
Donlin (as Robert Emmet O'Connor)
Tom Kennedy ...
Uncle Jed (scenes deleted)
Tom Wilson ...
Eddie Foyer ...


After a manslaughter conviction from drunk driving, nice but foolish Kent is sent to a prison over-crowded and unable to properly deal with it's inmates. There he meets veteran criminals like Morgan and his hardened pal Butch. And the system punishes them all, turning them against each other and bringing out the worst. Written by Ken Yousten <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Timely! Tremendous! Thrilling! Drama of Love and a Jail-Break!


Passed | See all certifications »





Release Date:

14 June 1930 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Big House  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Wallace Beery's mess-hall diatribe is parodied by Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), when he goes undercover in the prison and complains about the quality of the food. See more »


The hallway area outside Butch and Kent's cell changes between scenes, possibly due to re-shoots (see trivia). See more »


Anne: If you're ever around here again, drop in.
John Morgan: Oh, you don't mean that.
Anne: Why, of course I do.
John Morgan: Gee, you're a peach of a girl.
See more »


Referenced in Fade to Black (1980) See more »


Goin' Home
(1922) (uncredited)
Music by Antonín Dvorák
from Second Movement (Largo) in Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World", Op.95, B.178 (1893)
Lyrics by William Arms Fisher (1922)
Sung offscreen by an unidentified prisoner in solitary
See more »

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User Reviews

Time has shrunk Big House slightly.
6 June 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The archetype prison break picture may show it's age but it has some decent action scenes, good performances and an oppressive and intimidating setting that enables it to retain a creaky toughness.

Imprisoned after being convicted of a drunk driving, death resulting charge privileged Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) finds himself in an inhuman environment of an overcrowded prison. There he meets the likes of hardened criminals Machine Gun Schmidt (Wally Beery) and cell mate John Morgan (Chester Morris) who attempts to teach him the ropes. Marlowe in turn sets up Morgan causing him to be denied parole. Morgan is forced to go over the wall but is recaptured and returned just in time to participate in a major break out.

Some of the Big House is downright preposterous with stilted dialog and lame brain logic but Beery and Morris come across well as pretty tough mugs and Montgomery's Marlowe is a suitably craven rat. There's a bravura prison riot at the tail end of the film that is well edited and suspenseful pitting Beery against the warden played by Lewis Stone who refuses to meet inmate demands and stoically responds to the threat of hostage sacrifice by calling in tanks. In its own way and especially in its time The Big House is as uncompromisingly tough as the warden.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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