The film was prepared for production with Lon Chaney, Sr. chosen for the role of Butch, a violent career criminal who rules the cellblock and has no redeeming qualities. Due to Chaney's death, this role went to Wallace Beery, a major supporting actor in silent films, and proved Beery's big breakthrough into sound films, garnering an Oscar nomination.
Robert Montgomery plays a man convicted of drunk driving manslaughter, who is hardened by his contacts with the prisoners where he is incarcerated. Other actors include Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Leila Hyams.
Marion won the Academy Award for Best Writing Achievement. Douglas Shearer also won the Academy Award for Sound. Wallace Beery was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the film was nominated for Best Picture. The movie launched Beery's sound career to new heights; a top supporting actor in silents, Beery had been dropped by his studio when sound came in, but after The Big House hit a success in the box office, Beery became the world's highest paid actor within two years.
Other movies with the same name were released in 1998 and 2000.