Big House U.S.A.

Written by Joe D on July 8th, 2007

I watched a classic B movie from 1955 last night. Big House U.S.A. Ralph Meeker is even more amoral than he is in Kiss Me Deadly. Here he plays a kidnapper nicknamed The Iceman. He starts off this romp by kidnapping a rich kid at summer camp who has bad asthma. He stashes the kid in an abandoned lookout fire tower and after the kid crashes through the rotted railing, the Iceman calmly picks him up and flings him off a precipitous cliff. What a guy. He gets the ransom stashes it and is promptly arrested. Dropped into Cascabel Island Penitentary, he gets to bunk with- Charles Bronson ( an early use of the name Bronson, instead of Buchinsky), Broderick Crawford ( the “brains” of the outfit, if you can believe that) Lon Chaney Jr. ( he’s carving an anotomically correct doll of a blonde bimbo when we first see him) and William Talman ( you’ll know him if you see him, a blond sleazebag). What a cast! Meeker is so evil, I think this portrayal got him the part of Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly. That’s the next film he did and it’s great. But Crawford does his best to outdo Meeker, first he steams to death his henchman Dipsy so his escape plan won’t be found out then he has Talman kill Bronson while he’s asleep. This is directly after Bronson saves Crawford’s life! Then he directs Talman to disfigure Charlie with a blow torch and chuck him overboard so the cops will think it’s Meeker. Jeez! They all get their comeuppances in the end. But what an amoral crew! And this is 1955! I think movies from the 50’s can be pretty violent indeed. I guess after the horrors of WWII the American public needed more thrills, chills and spills! Another thing that’s great. The prison location. I love seeing guys in a huge prison machine shop or powerhouse. Like the part of White Heat where somebody tries to drop a 2 ton motor on Cody Jarrett ( James Cagney) and the Rat, (star of D.O.A.) Edmund O’Brien saves him so he can infiltrate his gang.
So if you like amoral noirish prison movies with a cast to kill for, check out Bighouse U.S.A.!