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The Big House Details


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 Hardy, in which Walter Long played the Beery counterpart. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:December 26, 1931


Awarded by
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Douglas Shearer Best Sound 1929 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Wallace Beery Best Actor 1929 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Frances Marion Best Screenplay 1929 Winner


Chester Morris
as John Morgan
Wallace Beery
as Butch Schmidt
Robert Montgomery
as Kent Marlowe
Leila Hyams
as Anne Marlowe
Lewis Stone
as Warden James Adams
Karl Dane
as Olsen
DeWitt Jennings
as Capt. Wallace
Matthew Betz
as Gopher
Claire McDowell
as Mrs. Marlowe
Robert E. O'Connor
as Sgt. Donlin
Roscoe Ates
as Putnam
Michael Vavitch
Eddie Lambert


Joseph Farnham
Martin Flavin
Frances Marion
Harold Wenstrom
Blanche Sewell
Cedric Gibbons
Art Director
Douglas Shearer
Sound/Sound Designer