The Big House (1930 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Big House
The Big House film poster.jpg
Original lobby card with Morris and Beery
Directed by George W. Hill
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Frances Marion
Joseph Farnham
Martin Flavin
Starring Robert Montgomery
Wallace Beery
Chester Morris
Lewis Stone
Music by Louis Silvers
Cinematography Harold Wenstrom
Edited by Blanche Sewell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates June 14, 1930
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Big House is a 1930 film starring Robert Montgomery, Wallace Beery and Chester Morris, directed by George W. Hill. The story and dialogue were written by Frances Marion, with additional dialogue by Joseph Farnham and Martin Flavin.[1]

Lon Chaney, Sr. was originally chosen for the role of Butch, a violent career criminal who rules the prison cellblock. Due to Chaney's death, this role went to Beery. The movie launched Beery's sound career to new heights; a top supporting actor in silents, he had been dropped by his studio when sound came in. After The Big House became a hit and his performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, he became the world's highest paid actor within two years.

Marion won the Academy Award for Best Writing Achievement. Douglas Shearer also won the first Academy Award for Sound. The film was nominated for Best Picture.[2]


Kent (Robert Montgomery), a young law-abiding man kills someone while driving drunk, is sentenced to ten years for manslaughter. In an overcrowded prison designed for 1800 and actually holding 3000, he is placed in a cell with Butch (Wallace Beery) and Morgan (Chester Morris), the two leaders of the inmates. Butch is alternately menacing and friendly, while Morgan tries to help out the frightened, inexperienced youngster, but Kent rebuffs his overtures.

When Butch is ordered into solitary confinement for sparking a protest over the unappetizing food, he passes along his knife before being searched. It ends up in Kent's hands. Meanwhile, Morgan is notified that he is to be paroled. Out of spite, Kent hides the knife in Morgan's bed. When it is found, Morgan's parole is canceled, and he is put in solitary as well. He vows to make Kent pay for what he has done.

When Morgan is let out of solitary, he escapes by switching places with a corpse. He makes his way to the bookstore run by Kent's beautiful sister, Anne (Leila Hyams). She, however, recognizes him. She manages to get his gun and starts to call the police, but then changes her mind and gives him back his pistol. Morgan (who has been attracted to Anne since he saw Kent's photograph of her) gets a job and becomes better acquainted with Anne and her family. They all like him, especially Anne. However, he is caught and sent back to prison.

When Butch tells Morgan of his plan for a jailbreak on Thanksgiving, Morgan tells him that he is going straight. In return for a promise of freedom, Kent informs the warden (Lewis Stone) of the attempt, though he is not privy to the details.

Despite the warning, the inmates succeed in taking over the prison, capturing many of the guards, though they are unable to force their way out. Thwarted, Butch threatens to shoot the guards one by one unless they are allowed to escape. When the warden stands firm, Butch shoots the warden's right-hand man in cold blood, then tosses the dying man out for all to see. Army tanks are summoned to break down the entrance. Morgan grabs a pistol from the prisoner assigned to watch the guards. He finds Kent cowering with the guards, but spares him. Kent panics and flees before Morgan locks the guards in to save their lives. When Kent tries to open the front doors, he is killed in the crossfire. Butch is told that Morgan was the "stoolie" who tipped off the warden and learns that he has also put the guards beyond his murderous reach. He sets out to kill his former friend. In the ensuing gunfight, both are wounded, Butch fatally. Before he dies, he learns that Kent was the traitor, and he and Morgan reconcile.

For his efforts, Morgan is given a full pardon. When he exits the prison, Anne rushes to embrace him.

Foreign Language Versions[edit]

In the early days of sound films, it was common for Hollywood studios to produce "Foreign Language Versions" of their films using the same sets, costumes and so on. While many of these versions no longer exist, the French and German-language versions of The Big House survive, which are entitled Révolte dans la prison and Menschen Hinter Gittern.



  1. ^ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (2009). The Big House (DVD). Warner Bros. Archive Collection. 
  2. ^ "The 3rd Academy Awards (1929/30) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-05. 

External links[edit]