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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.


(as George Hill), (uncredited)


(story and dialogue), (additional dialogue) (as Joe Farnham) | 1 more credit »
Won 2 Oscars. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
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)
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 <kyousten@bev.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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


Crime | Drama | Thriller


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?


Ward Wing concurrently directed a Spanish-language version of this film. Pál Fejös directed separate German- and French-language versions. See more »


When Anne comes to visit Kent at the prison, and he walks up and says 'Hi sis,' the shadow of the microphone falls across her. See more »


'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: [Looking at a picture of Kent's sister] Gee... it reminds me of Sadie. Gee, Sadie was a good skirt. I shouldn't have slipped her that ant poison. I should have just battered her in the jaw a few times.
See more »


Alternate-language version of El presidio (1930) See more »


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

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User Reviews

Breakout at Noon
10 October 2005 | by (brooklyn NY) – See all my reviews

(Some Spoilers) Brutal prison drama that ends in a storm of fire and bullets with a jail break that turns the state penitentiary into a free-fire zone.

Young Kent Marlow, Robert Montgomery, is given ten years for a New Years Day car accident that killed a pedestrian. Kent is put in a cell with two hardened and career convicts murderer and hold-up artist Butch "Machine Gun" Schmidt, Wallace Berry, and professional forger and stick-up man Joe Morgan, Chester Morris. Not being able to take prison life Kent is willing to do anything to get out even rat on his fellow convicts in order to get an early parole.

Getting under the wings of prison rat-fink Oliver, Fletcher Norton, Kent learns the ropes and about selling out his friends by making friends with convicts like Butch and Morgan then winning over their confidence getting the goods on them; then running to Warden James Adams, Lewis Stone, and ratting, or selling, them out to get his early out.

It seems that Kent hasn't learned that a rat has no friends on either side of the prison gate and will learn that hard lesson when he pulls off his biggest sell-out of all by not only getting the news to the warden Adams about a Thanksgiving noon prison break. Kent gets his very honest and ethical cell-mate Joe Morgan to take the blame for the break-out in him ratting out his friends like Butch who engineer the breakout. Morgan and Butch are by far more sympathetic then Kent by being straight forward and on the level. Where Kent is an opportunist who's life of luxury, before his car accident that landed him in the clink, and high status on the outside made him in a way looked down on those he was incarcerated with.

Both Butch and Morgan end up in the hole, solitary confinement, Butch for starting a food riot in the prison mess hall and Morgan for having a shiv, or knife, in his cell that Kent planted on him. Morgan later escaping from prison on the meat wagon, the autopsy truck, has a new life on the outside and even meets and falls in love with Kent's sister Anne, Leila Hyams. At first being accepted by Anne, and Kent's, family Morgan is caught before he can get out of the country and ends up back in the pen, with seven more years added on to his sentence.

Back behind bars Morgan is determined to go straight and distanced himself not from his friends in the pen but in what they plan to do in breaking out of prison and it's that non-involvement on Morgans part that leads to the disastrous prison beak-out at the end of the movie. It was Kent who gave the news of the breakout to Warden Adams but it was Morgan who ended up getting blamed for it which cost the lives of over 50 prisoners and guards.

Stomach crunching action as the screen lights up with not only small and heavy arms fire but also an assault on the revolting convicts fortress, the prisoners quarters, with an armored unit of early combat ready tanks. Powerful performances all around that has some of the most unforgettable characters ever put in an American Prison flick who have been copied in scores of prison movies over the years but have never been equaled.

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