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The Big House (1930)

Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery Wallace Beery , George Hill  |  NR |  DVD
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery Wallace Beery
  • Directors: George Hill
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • DVD Release Date: June 22, 2009
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002EAYDQ6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,839 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Big House" on IMDb

Special Features

None.

Editorial Reviews

Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery lead in this suspenseful film that depicts the range, desperation and loyalty of 3,000 felons, inhabiting an institution built for only 1,800.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:DVD
The Big House is a riveting prison drama with convincing acting that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go until the very ending of the film! The casting is great; and the script, primarily written by Frances Marion, is brilliant. The cinematography and the choreography are very, very good as well. This may be an "early talkie," but don't be fooled--the quality of the sound is actually quite good; I tip my hat to the other reviewer who notes that this got an Oscar for sound. There's some social commentary woven into the script but it's brief and rather similar to what we would hear today!

At the beginning of the film, Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) gets thrown into prison for manslaughter; he accidentally ran over a man when he was driving drunk on New Year's Eve. Kent meets the prison warden James Adams (Lewis Stone) and his new cellmates, "Machine Gun" Butch Schmidt (Wallace Beery) and convicted forger John Morgan (Chester Morris). Right from the start we see and experience the prison environment: inmates bullying each other; people making elaborate plans for breaking out; others serving time in solitary which is completely dark and is referred to as "the dungeon;" and still more inmates trying to ingratiate themselves to guards and other prisoners to get favors and time reduced from their prison sentences--and the list goes on. Kent is overwhelmed although he makes friends with another prisoner named Oliver (Fletcher Norton) who tries to help him in his own way. As for Butch, he's one tough guy who murders and thinks nothing of it. To make things even more complicated, when Kent's sister Anne (Leila Hyams) comes to visit him, John Morgan takes one look at her and wants to make her his own, especially when John's lawyer tells him that he's getting early parole the next day.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sets the archetype for prison films January 24, 2010
Format:DVD
"The Big House" is the first of the prison films to capture an audience, and as such, it is the archetype for almost every prison movie to follow, apart from the "chain gang" films that have their origins in Paul Muni's excellent 1932 "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang."

One doesn't expect a film such as this from MGM. After all, during the early 30s, MGM was best known for Garbo's "Anna Christie" (1930) and "Mata Hari" (1931), "Grand Hotel" (1932), musicals (e.g., "Lord Byron", "Good News", "Dancing Lady" etc.) and the "Tarzan" films. "The Big House" fits better into Warner Brothers, with Edward G Robinson's (1930) "Little Caesar", Cagney's great "Public Enemy" (1931), and Howard Hughes "Scarface" (1932). But Director George Hill and writer Frances Marion were at MGM where they made not only "The Big House", but also Min and Bill (1930) with Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler. Marion was also the writer for "Anna Christie" and "Good News." So this very un MGM film got made at MGM because the artistic talent was there.

The Big House was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but it was beaten by "All Quiet on the Western Front." Wallace Berry got the nod for Best Actor, but the award went to George Arliss in "Disraeli." But "The Big House" was the winner for Best Sound (Douglas Shearer) and Best Writing (Frances Marion). Marion was the first woman to win an AA for writing. How did a woman get to write a prison movie? Easy, She was married to the Director (George W. Hill). But Marion's success was not attributable to her spousal arrangement alone. She was the favorite writer for such well known actors as Mary Pickford, Marion Davies, and Marie Dressler. In addition she won an Oscar in 1931 for "The Champ" (also with Wallace Beery).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STILL POTENT PRISON DRAMA December 30, 2012
By Casey62
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
In many ways, MGM's 1930 production of THE BIG HOUSE remains the ultimate movie about men behind bars. It's the very first serious handling of the subject, establishing the general narrative devices prison films have copied and improvised ever since. However, unlike all those others, THE BIG HOUSE is different in that it's an archetypal depiction of everything we've come to associate with the genre. Even after eight decades it still packs quite a wallop, especially in its grim prison riot climax.

Expertly directed by George Hill, THE BIG HOUSE top bills Chester Morris and Wallace Beery in standout roles as hardened cell mates in a badly overcrowded penitentiary run by a tough but compassionate warden, played by Lewis Stone. Robert Montgomery is a newly incarcerated prisoner whose nerves begin to unravel under the pressure. Pretty Leila Hyams plays Montgomery's sister and Morris' sweetheart.

THE BIG HOUSE contains several memorable scenes, one of which takes place in the prison chapel where the convicts are reciting The Lord's Prayer while under the pews they're passing guns and bullets to each other in preparation for their crashout on Thanksgiving Day. They also sing the hymn, "Open the Gates", which has a perversely ironic twist Morris and Beery appreciate, eyeing each other knowingly. The big riot sequence itself is well staged with a gritty authenticity that's quite forceful even today. The film's strengths were recognized by the Academy, winning for best screenplay and best sound recording. The large prison set and grounds were reused by Hal Roach the following year for Laurel and Hardy's first feature length film, PARDON US (1931).

The DVD-R of THE BIG HOUSE from the Warner Achives seems to have been transferred off the same master used for the VHS release.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's talk tough.
I've loooked forward to viewing this film in the uncut version since the 50s, when it was first released to TV. Read more
Published 14 months ago by duke1029
4.0 out of 5 stars Wallace Berry
A great, hard-to-find movie starring one of the less-known greats of yesteryear, Wallace Berry.. Let's continue to expect more releases like this on video. Peace..
Published 16 months ago by Son of God
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Flick
This movie is as good as I expected. The outcome was as expected, but it was typical of that genre.
Published on July 3, 2011 by Dennis A. Biggs
4.0 out of 5 stars first prison movie
This is a early talking movie from 1930 and the first one Prison movie. Its not allowed to compare those old movie new one. Read more
Published on June 3, 2011 by Anton Beat Riess
4.0 out of 5 stars the big house
The quality of the DVD was more then exceptable. The only problem was at the bottom the the box it states " This disc is expected to play back in DVD "play only" devices and may... Read more
Published on February 3, 2010 by Lawrence Grochocki
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dawn of Sound gives birth to the prison film
There were prison and gangster films during the silent era. "The Godless Girl" and "Alias Jimmy Valentine" are examples of such films before sound came along. Read more
Published on September 7, 2009 by calvinnme
5.0 out of 5 stars fine, taut prison drama with excellent acting
The Big House has an excellent plot with convincing acting that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go until the very last second of the film! Read more
Published on August 25, 2009 by Matthew G. Sherwin
5.0 out of 5 stars The dawn of sound gives birth to the prison film
There were prison and gangster films during the silent era. "The Godless Girl" and "Alias Jimmy Valentine" are examples of such films before sound came along. Read more
Published on January 25, 2008 by calvinnme
5.0 out of 5 stars First prison movie still one of the best.
One of the first prison movies is still one of the best, thanks to great early performances by Chester Morris (Five Came Back, Boston Blackie) and Robert Montgomery (The Lady In... Read more
Published on April 27, 2005 by R. Christenson / Lunamation
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Good
An unusual film from MGM, featuring a grim look to the harsh reality of prison conditions. Being an early talkie (1930), the first thing to surprise me favorably, was that the... Read more
Published on May 17, 2003 by Fernando Silva
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