Ladies of the Big House, 1931
The movies had just learned to talk, and often they loved to talk tough. The hit prison film The Big House, with its brawling bravado, spawned a number of stir-crazy melodramas, including this early WIP winner, directed by Marion Gering for Paramount. Citywise but soulful Kathleen Storm (Sylvia Sidney) has the decent guy Standish McNeil (Gene Raymond) in her arms but the rotten crook Kid Atkins (Earle Foxx) in her past. Kathleen and Stan are framed for murder and sent to his-and-hers prisons. Among her cellmates are a full retinue of stereotypes: the heavyset matron (Jane Darwell) with the mannish haircut; Kid's ex-girlfriend (Wynne Gibson), out for revenge against Kathleen; the hawk-faced stool pigeon, whose fiercest enemy is the blues-lovin' black woman (Louise Beavers); and the pregnant Latina who wails, "My baby won't be born in prison." It's as if the genre had already created its own clichés at this early stage.