The Big House (1930)

The Big House
Montgomery, Morris, and Beery

'The Big House' is a dramatic prison film made in 1930 during the beginning of Talkies, directed by George W. Hill and starring Wallace Beery, in the role which made him a Talkies star, Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, Robert Montgomery and Leila Hyams. It is an intense, well acted drama and defined many of the prison movies which followed. The claustrophobic sets, the innovative use of sound effects and the realistic prison slang virtually created a new genre.

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The movie was voted one of the 10 Best Pictures of 1930 in a poll by Film Daily critics and was one of the top 10 box office films of 1930. It was nominated for Four Academy Awards and won two, Frances Marion for her realistic script and Douglas Shearer for Sound Recording.(He won his award on the night his sister, Norma Shearer, won the Best Actress Award). It lost the Best Picture nomination and Best Actor nomination for Walter Beery. Francis Marion married director Hill during production of the film.

'The Big House' tells the story of Kent (Robert Montgomery), a young man who is sent to Sing Sing prison for vehicular manslaughter. He is put in a cell with two hardened career criminals, played by Wallace Beery and Chester Morris. One of the cons escapes and falls in love with Kent's sister. A jailbreak leads to a riot in the prison and to violent police reaction.

Walter Beery's career rose to new heights with the success of 'The Big House'. He had been a top supporting actor in over 150 silent movies but was overlooked when Talkies came in, but after 'The Big House' became a major box office hit, Beery was the world's highest paid actor within two years.

Main Cast

Chester Morris ... John Morgan
Wallace Beery ... Butch Schmidt
Lewis Stone ... Warden James Adams
Robert Montgomery ... Kent Marlowe
Leila Hyams ... Anne Marlowe
George F. Marion ... Pop Riker
J.C. Nugent ... Mr Marlowe
Karl Dane ... Olsen
DeWitt Jennings ... Captain Wallace
Matthew Betz ... Gopher
Claire McDowell ... Mrs Marlowe
Robert Emmett O'Connor ... Sergeant Donlin
Tom Kennedy ... Uncle Jed


Director ... George W. Hill
Producer ... Irving Thalberg
Production Company ... Cosmopolitan Productions Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Story and Screenplay ... Frances Marion, Joe Farnham, Martin Flavin
Format ... B & W
Initial Release ... 14 June, 1930
Running Time ... 80 or 84 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Writing ... Frances Marion
Best Sound, Recording ... MGM Sound Dept., Douglas Shearer, Sound Director
2 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... MGM
Best Actor ... Wallace Beery