The Big House established the prison drama as a motion picture genre, as it set new standards in realistic sound recording. Even by MGM's lofty standards, the film had high production values: the Cedric Gibbons-designed sets vividly recreated the harsh, sometimes brutal life inside U.S. prisons in the 1930s, and Douglas Shearer's Oscar-winning sound effects accentuated the stark visual tone. The sensation of bullets whizzing, rattling, and clanking off metal bars was a thrill to audiences who were embracing the transition away from silent films. Big House proved to be a star-making vehicle for Wallace Beery, who had been cast in the film only after the death of the studio's first choice, Lon Chaney. Frances Marion garnered a Best Writing Oscar for her screenplay, making her the first woman to receive an Academy Award outside of the Best Actress category.