The Big House (1930) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Big House (1930)

TOMATOMETER

——

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The Big House Videos

The Big House Photos

Movie Info

Not the first of the prison pictures, but the one that truly put the genre on the map. Playboy Kent (Robert Montgomery), driving drunk, kills a couple of pedestrians and is sentenced to a 10-year manslaughter term. His cellmate is forger Morgan (Chester Morris), a tough but essentially decent con; the cell-block leader is Butch (Wallace Beery), whose outer oafishness hides a cruel, calculating mind. Butch lives for the day that he can bust out and doesn't care who gets hurt along the way. Panicking, Kent "rats" on Butch and is murdered during the climactic breakout as a consequence. Morgan behaves courageously, saving the warden (Lewis Stone) and the guards from Butch's wrath; as a reward, Morgan earns a reduced sentence and the love of Kent's sister Anne (Leila Hyams). Remarkably brutal for an MGM film, The Big House (a double Oscar winner, for best screenplay and sound recording) established not only the grimy mise-en-scene of prison life, but also a whole new glossary of slang terms and a veritable menagerie of movie "types," from the firm but kindly prison chaplain to the embittered lifer. The film was gloriously lampooned by Laurel & Hardy's Pardon Us, in which Walter Long played the Beery counterpart.

Watch it now

Cast

Karl Dane
as Olsen
Lewis Stone
as Warden James Adams
Leila Hyams
as Anne Marlowe
George F. Marion
as Pop Reicher
J.C. Nugent
as Mr. Marlowe
DeWitt Jennings
as Capt. Wallace
Claire McDowell
as Mrs. Marlowe
Robert E. O'Connor
as Sgt. Donlin
Tom Wilson
as Sandy, the Guard
Adolph Seidel
as Prison Barber
Tom Kennedy
as Uncle Jed
Eddie Lambert
as Inmate (uncredited)
Michael Vavitch
as Inmate (uncredited)
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for The Big House

All Critics (6)

It's an outsized, abstracted version of everyday life circa 1930.

April 7, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

A good early prison drama with a strong, Oscar-nominated performance of Wallace Beery as a tough murderer; Beery took over after Lon Chaney's sudden death.

February 12, 2008 | Rating: B | Full Review…

Despite its flaws, for those who love this genre it's a must see film.

January 23, 2008 | Rating: C+ | Full Review…

Any niggling doubts about the film disappear in the last twenty minutes.

June 25, 2005 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Great early prison drama from the ever-inventive George Hill.

August 21, 2003 | Rating: 4/5

Audience Reviews for The Big House

½

an early prison break film. robert montgomery is completely overshadowed by the now forgotten actor chester morris. i'm afraid montgomery would be everyone's bitch at prison. wallace beery is fun and this film made him a huge star. frances marion became the first woman to win an oscar for screenwriting. it's a little hokey at times. i'd like to see what warner bros could've done with it. interesting to note that prison overcrowding was already an issue in 1930

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

A classic jailhouse saga.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

The Big House Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

Discussion Forum

Discuss The Big House on our Movie forum!

News & Features