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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:

See 3,000 desperate convicts in their break for freedom! (Print Ad- Edmonton Journal, ((Edmonton Alta.)) 5 August 1930) 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

Hal Roach, who produced his own comedies but released them through MGM, obtained an agreement allowing him to use the prison set from this film for a Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy short. However, as the comedy was being planned, MGM stipulated that Laurel & Hardy would have to make a film for them. Not wanting to loan out his biggest stars, Roach built his own set, an expense so great that the short was expanded to feature length to recoup the cost. The film became Pardon Us (1931), the pair's first starring feature. 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

John - Prison Guard: Kent Marlowe. Manslaughter. Sentenced to 10 years. First time in prison?
Kent: Yes.
John - Prison Guard: Sir, to me!
Kent: Yes sir.
John - Prison Guard: How old are you?
Kent: Twenty-four, sir.
John - Prison Guard: Ever serve in the Army? Navy? Marine Corps?
Kent: No sir.
John - Prison Guard: Use tobacco?
Kent: Yes sir.
[...]
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in Pardon Us (1931) 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

 
One of the great prison films.
27 September 2013 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

Over the decades, there have been tons of prison films. Most are pretty entertaining, however, a few, such as "The Big House", are great films and must be seen by serious film buffs. It's not surprising that this film took the Oscar for Best Writing, as Francis Marion's script was the biggest reason this film was so good. It also didn't hurt that you had three exceptional actors (Chester Morris, Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery) in the leads as well as George Hill's wonderful direction. While Beery was the one who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, for me, the best performance in the film was Montgomery's--he played his part with an amazing intensity you just need to see. As for Morris, he was, as usual, very believable and professional.

The film begins with Kent (Montgomery) arriving in prison. He doesn't feel he belongs there--after all, his killing a person was just an accident, as he was drunk! However, the warden (Lewis Stone) will have none of this and tells Kent he's earned ten years in prison. Through much of the early portion of the film, Kent felt very sorry for himself and kept asking his family about an appeal. I really felt annoyed at this, as Kent seemed to only think about himself and showed no remorse at all. Fortunately, the film did NOT paint him as a victim but as a spineless little jerk--and as the film progresses, you see just how spineless and evil he could be.

Kent has two cell-mates. Butch (Beery) is a sociopathic bully who pushes everyone around except for Morgan (Morris)--and Morgan is the third man in this cell. As for Morgan, he's tough but there is also a certain decency about him and although Beery got the Oscar nomination for Best Actor, clearly Morris was THE star in this film and the movie mostly focused on this guy. As far as what happens next, I really would rather not discuss this as it is just better if you see it for yourself.

As I said above, Montgomery was the standout in this film. His terrified look and pusillanimous body language were great. While he's not usually thought of as a great actor, here in one of his first films he is mesmerizing. The other two are also wonderful--and Lewis Stone is wonderful as the tough but very reasonable warden. But, if you see the film, you'll also realize that the biggest star really is Marion's script. The film is gritty and realistic without being bogged down by clichés. I also loved the direction, as the camera angles and almost film noir-like camera-work really were striking. Well worth your time and proof that early talkies could be just as good as anything made today.


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