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Murder in the Big House

Murder in the Big House(1942)

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"Dapper Dan" Malloy, who is scheduled to be executed in the electric chair for the murder of the district attorney, sends a note to Morning News reporter "Scoop" Conner telling him that he wants to see him. Malloy's lawyer, Bill Burgen, has advised him that the governor is going to commute his sentence to life imprisonment and later pardon him and will announce this in a radio broadcast shortly before the execution is scheduled to take place. Scoop knows nothing about the proposed reduction in sentence, and Malloy tells him that, if he does go to the chair, he intends to incriminate many others before he dies. "Mile-Away" Gordon, Malloy's partner in the killing, is expected to be executed a few days after him. Bert Bell, who is trying to begin a career as a reporter, waits in vain to see Morning News editor/publisher Jim F. "Pop" Ainslee but is encouraged by reporter Gladys Wayne. Attempting to confirm Scoop's information, Pop phones the governor and learns that he has no intention of staying Malloy's execution. As this means that Malloy will be doing some "singing," Pop assigns Scoop to go to the prison and get the story. However, when Scoop gets drunk and passes out, Gladys decides to cover the event and takes Bert with her. A thunder and lightning storm rages around the prison as the execution draws near and reporters from many papers assemble. Warden John Bevins announces to them that a higher power than the state has punished Malloy as he has been struck by a bolt of lightning through the window of his cell. The reporters are invited to view the body, and the prison doctor confirms that Malloy was electrocuted. Surreptitiously, Bert takes a photograph of the burns on Malloy's head and feet. Back at the office, Pop fires Scoop, Gladys and Bert, then rehires them when Gladys tells him about Bert's theory that Malloy was actually electrocuted in the chair to keep him from talking. The district attorney whom Malloy and Gordon killed had prepared a number of charges against corrupt city officials and, although Pop feels that Bevins is honest, he sends Scoop and Bert to ask his permission to conduct an investigation. Bevins willingly agrees, and Scoop and Bert interview all of the key prison personnel, who unanimously swear that Malloy could not have been taken from his cell to the execution chamber. This is confirmed by Gordon, who tells them that Malloy did not pass by his cell, as he would have. Demoralized, Scoop and Bert head back to the city, and on the way, their car is shot at, then run off the road. Scoop is badly hurt in the ensuing crash and, after Bert goes for help, both disappear, and Pop cannot locate them. Meanwhile, Burgen assures Mrs. Gordon that her husband's sentence will be commuted, but she is skeptical. Mike, the gunman who shot at Scoop and Bert, is about to drive Burgen away when he sees Bert visit Mrs. Gordon. When Bert discovers from Mrs. Gordon that Malloy was listening for the governor's announcement on his radio headphones, he realizes that the radio was involved in his death. Just then, Mike takes several shots at Bert and Mrs. Gordon through a window, but misses. Bert asks Mrs. Gordon to arrange for him to talk with her husband, then calls Pop to tell him that Scoop is recovering in a private hospital. On the night Gordon is to be executed, Bert and Scoop join the other reporters at the prison. To avoid any charges of mismanaging this execution, the warden first takes the reporters to see Gordon in his cell, then shows them the execution chamber where the chair is tested at different voltages. At that point, the warden is informed that Gordon is lying on the floor of his cell. This time, however, there is no storm. The cell is unlocked in front of everyone and, as pre-arranged with Bert, Gordon gets up. Bert tells the warden and reporters that Gordon, like Malloy, had been told to listen to the radio over the prison's headphones, which were plugged into a wall socket connected directly to the electric chair power lines. When the chair was tested before Malloy's execution, the full voltage passed through the headphones, killing him. The warden, who had previously announced that he intended to sue the Morning News for slander, declares that he is withdrawing the suit and is determined to find out who arranged Malloy's death. However, in the warden's office, Bert asks him to sign a confession that he, along with the prison captain, was responsible for killing Malloy in order to protect his crooked political cronies. The warden draws a gun on Bert, who earlier had removed its bullets, and after a long brawl, Bert subdues Bevins. Later, the warden implicates Burgen and others, and the governor commutes Gordon's sentence. Bert and Gladys plan to get married.