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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 »
Learn more

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Butch
...
Warden
...
Kent
...
Anne
George F. Marion ...
Pop
J.C. Nugent ...
Mr. Marlowe
...
Olsen
DeWitt Jennings ...
Wallace
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 ...
Sandy
Eddie Foyer ...
Dopey
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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

MGM Production Chief Irving Thalberg sent screenwriter Frances Marion to San Quentin State Prison in northern California to observe real prison conditions and adapt them as closely as possible to her script. The warden at the prison reminded Marion of the actor Lewis Stone, who was cast to play the prison warden in the film. See more »

Goofs

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

Quotes

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 »

Connections

Alternate-language version of Menschen hinter Gittern (1931) See more »

Soundtracks

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A great character study and view of the prison system
4 August 2000 | by (Los Angeles, CA) – See all my reviews

I saw "The Big House" last night as part of Turner Classic Movies' tribute to Frances Marion, the great female screenwriter. Marion became the first woman to win an Academy Award for screenwriting for her work on this film.

"The Big House" is a fascinating character study, showing how three very different men deal with being imprisoned. Butch (Wallace Beery) lords over all of the men with a knife and threats of violence. John Morgan (Chester Morris) is smart enough to befriend Butch and his crew, but keeps his own set of values. Newcomer Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) is terrified of prison and eventually turns "rat" in hopes of being released.

The film also infers that the public at large is partly to blame for the discontent (and eventual unrest) within the prison: at one moment, the head warden says something to the effect of the public wanting to put criminals in prison, but not wanting to spend the money to build more prisons to accommodate them. This is issue is still debated to this day.

I also found the portrayal of the lone female character, Anne Marlowe (Kent's sister, played by Leila Hyams), very refreshing and unexpected. Instead of the crying, simpering type we might expect in a prison movie, we are given a smart and compassionate woman who owns her own business.

All of the actors gave excellent, realistic performances and Frances Marion's screenplay was well-deserving of the accolades it received. The insight and sensitivity that she used to write about these characters and this place surpasses most of the scripts written by men on the same subject.


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