7.2/10
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21 user 21 critic

The Big House (1930)

Passed | | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 14 June 1930 (USA)
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.

Directors:

(as George Hill), (uncredited)

Writers:

(story and dialogue), (additional dialogue) (as Joe Farnham) | 1 more credit »
Reviews
Won 2 Oscars. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Machine Gun 'Butch' Schmidt
...
Warden James Adams
...
Kent Marlowe
...
Anne Marlowe
...
Pop
J.C. Nugent ...
Mr. Marlowe
...
Olsen
...
Wallace
Matthew Betz ...
Gopher (as Mathew Betz)
...
Mrs. Marlowe
Robert Emmett O'Connor ...
Donlin (as Robert Emmet O'Connor)
...
Uncle Jed (scenes deleted)
Tom Wilson ...
Sandy
Eddie Foyer ...
Dopey
Edit

Storyline

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 <kyousten@bev.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

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  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This movie relaunched Wallace Beery's career. Before the coming of sound, he had been a top supporting player in silent films but had been dropped by his studio when sound came in. With this film being a huge hit, and Beery earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, he was back in favor, and within two years was the world's highest paid actor. See more »

Goofs

The position of Wallace Beery'd head in relation to the wall in the letter sequence with Morris. See more »

Quotes

[repeated line]
'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: Who, me?
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in The Big Dog House (1931) See more »

Soundtracks

Taps
(1862) (uncredited)
Music by Daniel Butterfield
Played offscreen by a bugler
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Jail House Classic Still Rocks
2 January 2001 | by (Forest Ranch, CA) – See all my reviews

THE BIG HOUSE - prison of no hope - the last terminal for lost souls. Only the strong survive; the weak crack or are corrupted. As the warden shrewdly tells a new arrival, the place won't make you go yellow, but it you already are yellow it'll bring it out.

MGM was the only studio in Hollywood which would have let a female write the script for such a strong story. But in Frances Marion they not only had the most celebrated screenwriter in the industry, but also a person uniquely qualified to write about any situation. She headed off to California's notorious San Quentin Prison to observe the conditions & learn the lingo. Cheerfully deflecting the jibes & taunts of guards & prisoners alike, she reminded them that after being a frontline correspondent in the Great War there were few situations she couldn't handle.

The result is a wonderful film, tough, hard-bitten & stark. MGM did itself proud by supplying a terrific cast and production values. The scene where belligerent Wallace Beery refuses to eat the commissary slop remains a classic.

Chester Morris does a fine job as a resourceful crook who is actually helped by his time in prison, reformed against his will. This excellent actor is too often ignored when the histories of 1930's cinema are written. Wallace Beery, as murderous Butch, is absolutely unforgettable. Marion wrote the part with him in mind & it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing it. Lovable & dangerous in equal measure, he steals every scene he's in. THE BIG HOUSE would set Beery firmly on the road to major talkie stardom.

Robert Montgomery, on the cusp of his own salad days as a sophisticated, romantic leading man, here plays quite a different role. As a weak, cowardly stool pigeon, he's cast very much against type. It would be 1937's NIGHT MUST FALL before he received another such finely-nuanced role.

Lewis Stone is very effective in the small role as the tough-as-nails warden. Beautiful Leila Hyams is well-cast as Mongomery's spunky sister. George F. Marion & DeWitt Jennings are both memorable as elderly security guards. Champion stutterer Roscoe Ates provides a few moments of much needed comic relief.

Karl Dane is easily spotted as a hulking convict in several scenes, but he is curiously mute. Doubtless, his thick Danish accent was already giving the Studio trouble. Even though he had been an important comic star in silent pictures, he was quickly relegated to talkie bit parts. He was eventually further reduced to selling hot dogs from a cart outside the MGM front gates. This was the final indignity. He committed suicide in 1934.

Preview audiences were curiously cool to THE BIG HOUSE, until MGM executive Irving Thalberg figured out that female viewers didn't like con Chester Morris romancing another prisoner's wife. Thalberg instructed Marion to rewrite a few scenes and refilming made it clear that Leila Hyams was Robert Montgomery's sister, not his spouse. This pleased the patrons and the movie was a big hit.


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