Big House, The (1930): Oscar Nominated Prison Drama

George Hill’s early prison drama boasts a good cast of tough inmates, played by Wallace Beery, who was nominated for an Oscar as the murderer Butch, and Chester Morris, who was not.

Frances Marion, who was then married to Hill, won the Writing Achievement Oscar, as the Screenplay Award was called then, thus becoming the first female to achieve such a distinction, and for a decidedly “male genre.”

“Big House” offered a good role for Wallace Beery that helped define his screen image as a tough but lovable slob. Beery, whose role was originally cast with the great silent actor Lon Chaney who died suddenly, lost out the Best Actor to British thespian George Arliss in “Disraeli.” He won an Oscar for playing the boxer in the drama, “The Champ” (1931-32).

By standards of the time, the film’s climax, a jailbreak, was impressive, which may explain why the film was such a commercial hit.

Then MGM cast Beery as the romantic interest of one of studio’s biggest stars, Marie Dressler, in the upcoming Min and Bill

Oscar nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Irving Thalberg
Writing Achievement: Frances Marion
Actor: Wallace Beery
Sound Recording: Douglas Shearer

Oscar awards: 2

Writing Achievement
Sound Recording

Oscar Context

In 1929-30, “The big House” competed with four other films for the Best Picture Oscar: “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which won, the biopic “Disraeli,” the Norma Shearer vehicle “The Divorcee,” and “The Love Parade.”

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