“Timely! Tremendous! Thrilling! Drama of Love and a Jail-Break!” An archetypal prison film directed by George W. Hill, The Big House gives off an anti-Shawshank Redemption vibe – the naïve young inmate “Kent” (Robert Montgomery) who we think we’re going to end up rooting for turns out to be a spineless weasel who is willing to betray his cellmates at every opportunity in order to save his own skin. Conversely, we become more sympathetic for hardened criminals such as “Butch” (Wallace Beery) and “Morgan” (Chester Morris), who yearn for an illusive freedom beyond the prison walls. Things get complicated when Morgan briefly escapes and falls in love with Kent’s beautiful sister “Anne” (Leila Hyams). Meanwhile, Butch plans a rather futile prison break. An implausible happy ending was tacked on for some reason. Look for Lewis Stone (“Judge Hardy”) as the tough prison warden. Nominated for “Best Picture” (but losing out to All Quiet on the Western Front), The Big House was also the first film to win an Oscar for “Best Sound” and screenwriter Frances Marion became the first female to win an Academy Award for “Best Adapted Screenplay.”
Useless Trivia: Lon Chaney was originally set to portray “Butch” but died of a throat hemorrhage resulting from bronchial cancer on August 26, 1930, at the age of 47.