The Big House (1930)

Passed   |    |  Crime, Drama, Thriller


The Big House (1930) Poster

A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences.


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4 August 2000 | angelcitygal
A great character study and view of the prison system
I saw "The Big House" last night as part of Turner Classic Movies' tribute to Frances Marion, the great female screenwriter. Marion became the first woman to win an Academy Award for screenwriting for her work on this film.

"The Big House" is a fascinating character study, showing how three very different men deal with being imprisoned. Butch (Wallace Beery) lords over all of the men with a knife and threats of violence. John Morgan (Chester Morris) is smart enough to befriend Butch and his crew, but keeps his own set of values. Newcomer Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) is terrified of prison and eventually turns "rat" in hopes of being released.

The film also infers that the public at large is partly to blame for the discontent (and eventual unrest) within the prison: at one moment, the head warden says something to the effect of the public wanting to put criminals in prison, but not wanting to spend the money to build more prisons to accommodate them. This is issue is still debated to this day.

I also found the portrayal of the lone female character, Anne Marlowe (Kent's sister, played by Leila Hyams), very refreshing and unexpected. Instead of the crying, simpering type we might expect in a prison movie, we are given a smart and compassionate woman who owns her own business.

All of the actors gave excellent, realistic performances and Frances Marion's screenplay was well-deserving of the accolades it received. The insight and sensitivity that she used to write about these characters and this place surpasses most of the scripts written by men on the same subject.

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