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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:

George W. Hill (as George Hill), Ward Wing (uncredited)

Writers:

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

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An all-star revue featuring MGM contract players.

Directors: Charles Reisner, Christy Cabanne, and 1 more credit »
Stars: Conrad Nagel, Jack Benny, John Gilbert
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Chester Morris ... John Morgan
Wallace Beery ... Machine Gun 'Butch' Schmidt
Lewis Stone ... Warden James Adams
Robert Montgomery ... Kent Marlowe
Leila Hyams ... Anne Marlowe
George F. Marion ... Pop
J.C. Nugent J.C. Nugent ... Mr. Marlowe
Karl Dane ... Olsen
DeWitt Jennings ... Wallace
Matthew Betz ... Gopher (as Mathew Betz)
Claire McDowell ... Mrs. Marlowe
Robert Emmett O'Connor ... Donlin (as Robert Emmet O'Connor)
Tom Kennedy ... Uncle Jed (scenes deleted)
Tom Wilson ... Sandy
Eddie Foyer 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! See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Russian

Release Date:

14 June 1930 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Big House See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$414,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This film was released in Buenos Aires, Argentina, without Spanish subtitles nor any title in Spanish. It was released only for a "distinguished English-speakers audience" from Buenos Aires. See more »

Goofs

When Butch smacks Kent in the cell, Kent falls face down. When Butch picks him up, Kent is face up. As Butch puts him on the top bunk, Kent, who is still unconscious, straightens his leg to make it easier to be put in the bunk. See more »

Quotes

Warden: [to Kent] And remember, this prison does not give a man a yellow streak, but if he has one, it brings it out.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Public Hero Number 1 (1935) See more »

Soundtracks

Ring the Bells of Heaven
(1866) (uncredited)
Music by George Frederick Root
Words by William O. Cushing
Sung by the Prisoners in Chapel
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Jail House Classic Still Rocks
2 January 2001 | by Ron OliverSee 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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