Ladies of the Big House


1h 17m 1931

Brief Synopsis

On their Wedding day, Kathleen and Standish McNeil are followed home by Kid Athens, (a wanted murderer), and Policeman Martin French (sent to get Kathleen as a witness). Athens shoots French and tosses a gun, engraved with "with love" next to French's body. This sets up Kathleen (once a moll for Athen's) and Standish as the murderers. Eager Assistant Attorney John Hartman, who works for Athens, manipulates the jury to a guilty verdict. Standish (Mac) is sent to death row and Kathleen to a violent Woman's Prison. She's befriended by Ivory and Maria, but is viciously treated by inmate, Susie Thompson, a former moll of Athens before Kathleen. Kathleen discovers that her appeal has been denied and decides to escape with pregnant inmate, Maria. Kathleen is allowed a visit with Mac (Standish) and tells him of her plan to escape and tell the world of their innocence. Maria is shot while trying to cut the fence. Kathleen's getaway boat is smashed and she's recaptured...

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 26, 1931
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the unpublished and unproduced play Ladies of the Big House by Ernest Booth, (copyrighted 9 Mar 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

Standish "Mac" McNeil and Kathleen Storm meet at a dance hall and fall in love. Kathleen was formerly the moll of Kid Athens, who is wanted for murder but is being shielded by ambitious Assistant District Attorney John Hartman. On their wedding day, Mac and Kathleen are followed home by Athens, who shoots a policeman named Martin French, who was sent to bring in Kathleen as a witness. Athens tosses a gun that has been engraved with the words "with love" near the body, in order to frame Mac and Kathleen in the murder. They are arrested, and in court, Hartman manipulates the jury into bringing in a guilty verdict. Judge Harvey Benson sentences Kathleen to life imprisonment and orders that Mac be hanged. Warden Hecker separates the couple, sending Mac to the isolated cells of death row and Kathleen to the brutal milieu of a women's prison. There she is befriended by Ivory, a gentle black woman who received a one-hundred-year sentence for murdering her husband. Maria, a Mexican woman who is pregnant, fears that her baby will be born in prison and plans to escape. After two months, Millie, one of the matrons, reveals that Kathleen's appeal has been denied. State political boss Martin Doremus then conspires with the ambitious Captain of the Yard and Mrs. Lowry, a prison matron, to set up a photograph opportunity showing the McNeils embracing behind bars in order to embarrass the warden. Kathleen innocently believes she is being allowed a visit with her husband, but is allowed only a moment with him. The warden, aware of the trick, suspends Lowry and the yard captain. With forty-eight hours left to live, Mac is moved to a cell adjacent to where he will hang, and he sees Frank, who had the cell next door, led off to die. Meanwhile, inmate Susie Thompson, who treated Kathleen viciously because Athens jilted her for Kathleen, sees the illicit photograph in the newspaper along with a picture of the murder weapon and realizes that Athens is the real culprit. Although Susie offers to testify that she gave the engraved gun to Athens and the district attorney sends Hartman to the prison to investigate, Hartman refuses to listen. The warden takes pity on the couple and allows Mac and Kathleen to be reunited in his cell. Susie then tells Kathleen that Hartman takes orders from Doremus and is paid through Athens. During visitation hours, the husband of an Italian inmate reveals a plan for a jailbreak while speaking to his wife in their native tongue. Realizing her plight is hopeless, Kathleen joins Maria in the escape, planning to tell her story to the outside world. Other inmates assist by holding the matrons hostage, keeping the resident stool pigeon silent, and playing loud music during the showing of a silent film. One of the matrons breaks free, however, and sets the alarm. Maria is shot while cutting through wire and dies saying her child is now free. Kathleen gets through the prison fences and jumps into the bay, but the police boat smashes Maria's get-away boat, and Kathleen is retaken. The newspapers print Kathleen's charges of a frame-up, and the district attorney realizes the truth about his assistant and arrests Hartman and Doremus for conspiracy in suppressing evidence. Later, the McNeils are away at last on an ocean liner.

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 26, 1931
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Publix Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the unpublished and unproduced play Ladies of the Big House by Ernest Booth, (copyrighted 9 Mar 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The first two reels of the viewed print were missing; supplementary plot information was taken from reviews. A news item in Hollywood Reporter on July 14, 1931 states that the film's starting date was set back to 10 August and that Louis Gasnier and Max Marcin were scheduled to co-direct, although apparently neither of them worked on the film. According to contemporary sources, author Ernest Booth wrote from behind bars, although sources disagree as to whether he was incarcerated at Folsom or San Quentin prison. Another version of Ernest Booth's play was released by Paramount in 1940 as Women Without Names (see below), directed by Robert Florey and starring Ellen Drew. Louise Beavers reprised her role as "Ivory."