Jul 5, 2014

Wallace Beery, The Big House


A dormant beast. That's how I would describe Wallace Beery's Machine Gun Butch. And it is a perfectly fitting role for Beery to boot--that bulldog mug of his can be goofy and lovable as well as brutish and terrifying when the situation calls for it. It's interesting that he was the one singled out in a film chockful of great performances seeing as his isn't the largest in The Big House (in fact, he disappears for a big chunk of the film's middle) but it's not surprising; it's the loudest and flashiest performance in the picture. Beery has got the tough guy type down to a t, and yet there are shades to Butch that make him pretty adorable, like a cuddly bear if you will. What I liked most was that any sentimentality we feel towards the character is summoned unpretentiously rather than forced down our throats a la The Champ...we're neither blatantly asked to love or hate him. He plays Machine Gun Butch like a child in those prison scenes for much of the film--unruly and immature, controlled by authorities...he's such a silly, stupid goof that it's made all the more shocking when he morphs into the very savage killer his name suggests later on in the picture, with a highlight being that vicious scowl of betrayal he shoots Chester Morris. He's a completely different person, filled with animalistic rage, and I found it to be a chilling characterization.


  1. From what I can remember, I'd be more like a 2 or 2 1/2 for me. :)
    I was all about Chester Morris's charm.

    "that vicious scowl of betrayal he shoots Chester Morris" I don't remember this scene :)) isn't Robert Montgomery the one dying? so confused. :))

    1. Yeah, idk, I just ended up liking Beery a lot, even though I don't think he had the best performance in the film. I fluctuated between a 3 and a 4, ultimately giving him the 4 because a lot of his performance resonates with me.

      lol, and I don't mean that Beery actually shot Chester Morris, I meant like a glare that he gave Morris, not quite sure if that happens before or after Montgomery's death but it's in that scene and I always remember it :)

    2. you see, here's the language barrier, because I don't know what scowl means. And I read it quickly :))

      [1989 a bit postponed btw :P]

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.