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Murder in the Big House (1942)

Approved | | Action, Adventure, Crime | 11 April 1942 (USA)
When a prisoner on Death Row is "accidentally" killed just before his execution, a reporter smells something fishy. His investigation reveals that the condemned man was about to reveal some... See full summary »


B. Reeves Eason


Raymond L. Schrock (original screenplay), Jerome Chodorov (based on an idea by) (as Jerry Chodorov)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Van Johnson ... Bert Bell
Faye Emerson ... Gladys Wayne
George Meeker ... 'Scoop' Conner
Frank Wilcox ... Randall
Tod Andrews ... 'Dapper Dan' Malloy (as Michael Ames)
Roland Drew ... 'Mile-Away' Gordon
Ruth Ford ... Irene Gordon
Joseph Crehan ... Jim F. Ainslee
William Gould ... Warden John Bevins
Douglas Wood Douglas Wood ... Bill Burgen
John Maxwell ... Prison Doctor
Patrick McVey Patrick McVey ... Chief Electrician (as Pat McVeigh)
Dick Rich Dick Rich ... Death House Guard
Fred Kelsey ... Death House Keeper
William 'Bill' Phillips ... Mike - Henchman (as Bill Phillips)


When a prisoner on Death Row is "accidentally" killed just before his execution, a reporter smells something fishy. His investigation reveals that the condemned man was about to reveal some damaging information about the connection between the city's corrupt political machine and its major organized crime ring. The reporter hatches a plan, with the help of the paper's alcoholic political columnist, to get himself thrown in prison to get the information the murdered prisoner was going to reveal and expose both the crooked politicians and the gangsters they're in cahoots with. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Murder Behind Bars! WHEN? WHO? HOW? See more »


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

11 April 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Born for Trouble See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Following Van Johnson's rise to become the 1945 top box-office leading man, and Faye Emerson marrying FDR's son Elliott Roosevelt in 1944, the film was re-released to theaters in late 1945 and early 1946 under the title BORN FOR TROUBLE. See more »


After Bell and Scoop's car crashes down the hillside, Bell climbs out of the wreck without any signs that he has been in a serious crash. Even his hat is still on his head. The chances that anyone would survive such a major crash that involved several rollovers never-mind walk away without a scratch is impossible. See more »


Referenced in Returning the Favor: Standing with Coal Country (2018) See more »


I'll Be Glad When You're Dead (You Rascal You)
(1931) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by Spo-De-Odee
Title spoken by Ray Montgomery
See more »

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User Reviews

Van Johnson's first credited role!
8 December 2019 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

I'm not sure if Johnson had already signed with MGM or did so afterwards, but this was a dandy role to open his film career with - the lead in one of WB's many hour long B features of the 30s and 40s. This has an alternate title of "Born For Trouble" which makes no sense given the subject matter.

A man who is convicted of killing a crusading district attorney is scheduled to die in the electric chair the following day. He tells his lawyer that if his sentence is not commuted to life that he will spill all he knows to the papers about the syndicate that hired him to commit the killing right before he is executed. He has previously promised "Scoop" of the Morning News that any singing he does will be an exclusive for him.

So the governor does not commute the guy's sentence. But for some reason "Scoop" is drunk the night of the execution, so reporter Gladys Wayne grabs the ticket to the execution out of Scoop's pocket and gives it to Bert Bell (Van Johnson), who wants to be hired by the Morning News, and tells him to come with her, this is his big chance. Why is it not her big chance? Why does Scoop decide to go on a bender on the biggest night of his career? We only have 60 minutes folks. You'll have to see "My Girl Friday" or "Come Fill the Cup" if you want answers to those kind of newspaper caper questions.

But the murderer isn't executed and doesn't have time to tell all to the tabloids, because according to the warden the man was struck by lightning through the window of his cell and killed. Bert Bell takes a photo of the dead man while nobody is looking, and when he gets back to the paper notes that the marks on the man definitely look like those of a man killed in the chair not killed by lightning. But people were in the actual death chamber testing the electric chair at the time the man died, so nobody could have dragged him in, electrocuted him, and dragged him back to his cell. So Bell is on the case to figure out what happened.

This is an action packed little B that kept my interest throughout. I'd highly recommend it not only because it is interesting but it shows Van Johnson had what it took from the very beginning.

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