The Big House (1930) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Big House1930

The Big House (1930)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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.

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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)
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Critic Reviews for The Big House

All Critics (8) | Top Critics (1)

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

April 7, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/5

Dialogue cannot carry the mood, the film as a whole is the vehicle. The accusations therefore remain incidents -- passing and unemphatic. Whatever suggestion of social guilt they contain is dissipated by the events of the story, and their treatment.

September 5, 2019 | Full Review…

George W. Hill expertly directed the film and some of the scenes with prisoners en masse are beautifully choreographed. I love how cinematographer Harold Wenstrom plays with light and shadow especially in the earlier part of the movie.

November 7, 2018 | 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…

Audience Reviews for The Big House

***Spoilers ahead, Maybe?*** Since I like old black & white prison movies so much I expected to like this movie as well but I couldn't get into it.For me it was just OK.Right from the start I felt like I was watching it just to be watching it.Things didn't get exciting until the very end with the failed escape & shoot out.It was the only time I was able to get into the movie but there was only like 10 minutes left so it really didn't matter.During the riot I can't believe they brought out a couple of tanks.I was NOT expecting that.It had me wondering if there were ever any actual prison riots where tanks were used to bring the prison back to order.A thing I thought that was interesting was the inmate that escaped, went straight on the outside & seemed like he would've stayed that way if he wasn't captured & sent back, fell right back into place on the inside, the inmate who I thought would never let prison change him, ended up changing in the end & the main inmate you knew there was no hope for, was never going to change.I'm not sure The Big House is a movie I'd recommend.It got alot of good reviews but I just wasn't into it.It's something you'll have to see & decide for yourself

Brody Manson
Brody Manson

Super Reviewer


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

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