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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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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

Robert Montgomery and Chester Morris also appeared in The Divorcee (1930), another of that year's Best Film nominees. 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

'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: What's your name?
'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: [after getting no response] I said what's your name?
Kent: Kent Marlowe.
'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: Mine's Schmidt. I'm known the world over as "Machine Gun Butch." You heard of me, naturally.
'Machine Gun' Butch Schmidt: [after Kent shakes his head 'no.'] Never heard of the Delancey Gang bein' wiped out? Well, I done the wipin'.
See more »

Connections

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

Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

A great character study and view of the prison system
4 August 2000 | by angelcitygalSee 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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