The Big House (1930) takes place in an over-crowded Art Deco prison.
Warden James Arden (Lewis Stone) presides over the prisoners at a safe distance, so as not to get his suit and bow-tie dirty.
Now for the prisoners...
John "Morg" Morgan (Chester Morris) Morgan is a slick robber with a talent for wielding guns. After putting in 3 years with good behavior, Morgan's just about ready to get out of prison, into the real world and into the arms of some understanding dame. But the Big House doesn't quite want to spit him out yet.
Butch "Machine Gun" Schmidt (Wallace Beery) This big lug has a weak spot for his momma but has no qualms about gunning down the whole DeLacey gang in one fell swoop ($500 for all three!). He's got opinions and he's not afraid to share him. His mind is always on the dames. Butch is the type to kiss a gal one moment and knock out her teeth the next.
Prisoner # 48642
Kent Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) A yellow-bellied fish* (*a term for a new inmate) gets thrown into the slammer for vehicular manslaughter as a result of having too many drinks on one fateful night. Marlowe's from a respectable and wealthy family and feels he doesn't belong in the slammer and will do anything to get out. Even if it means backstabbing his fellow prisoners.
It gets mighty lonely for a chap in prison with all those other chaps. Butch entertains the other prisoners by fake reading letters from a fictional girlfriend named Myrtle, who just adores her great big boy. He also entertains himself with the thought of all notches that are supposed to exist on bedposts around the area.
Morgan has his eye on Marlowe's sister Anne (Leila Hyams) who looks positively angelic in the photo Marlowe carries around with him. Her blonde curls frame her face almost like a halo. Morgan gets several glimpses of Anne before he can lay his hands on the real thing. First a picture, then a glance during visiting hours, then it's a visit to the bookstore where Anne works. Morgan envisions a new life in the Pacific Islands and Anne is just the sort of dame he'd like to take with him. She's a good virginal specimen. Or is she? Morgan possesses her with his stare and she seems willing to be possessed. He comes looking for her and she thinks it's to seek revenge against her for her brother's backstabbing. However, she caves in to his good looks, his charm and a little taste of danger that could spice up her life.
Who knew a film about a bunch of men in prison could be so sexy?
The Big House (1930) is available on DVD as part of the Warner Home Archive collection.