Bigger Than Life

Bigger Than Life

DVD - 2010
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A friendly schoolteacher turns violent when he becomes addicted to a painkiller he is prescribed for a painful health problem.
Publisher: [United States] : The Criterion Collection, c2010
Edition: Special ed
ISBN: 9781604652468
Branch Call Number: DVD
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (95 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in


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This is quite possibly Nicholas Ray's finest film. It's interesting that many commenters interpret it in terms of the perils of drug addiction, because that's on everybody's minds now, right? I see it as the story of a guy who's consumed by worry about mortality and the hollowness of middle-class suburban life in the 50s. The drug merely amplifies those concerns into psychosis and religious mania. When he's crazy, he's obsessing over the same things that concern him when he's sane. A well modulated performance by Mason, who amps up his lunacy until the climax. Matthau is good as the concerned friend, and Barbara Rush as the wife who's not quite pro-active enough. Based on a true story, "Ten Feet Tall," in the New Yorker, by Berton Roueché! In another case, Jerry Lewis was in the hospital for months, shaking the cortisone monkey off his back. Super over-saturated Technicolor, and don't miss the great shot of Mason looking at himself in a shattered mirror.

Nov 12, 2018

Over the top writing plus James Mason's voice equals an overacting extravaganza!

wow, tell us how you really feel ( comment directly below this one). this film didn't succeed for me, either, but i am not so disappointed as (comment directly below this one). i guess i have become comfortably numb about big themed movies being unable to deliver on what they promise to. i doubt a director like Spike Lee could have done any better with such a premise. I'd like to see what Marty Scorcese could do with such a project as this, giving the lead to Robert DeNiro of a decade or so ago. And, how about casting Joan Allen as his wife? Did you miss the Jerry Mathers cameo early on? You can't miss the excellent dark lighting and shadows, for this is Ray's forte. Didn't Mason always have a dark side lurking beneath that urbane surface? So, with the Jekyll/Hyde premise, it makes sense to see Mason unleashing his negative personality, especially with a drug to excuse it. What, you've never known a 'speed freak,' a 'meth head'? How about living with an alcoholic prone to blackouts, when he beats his wife, and can't recall it next morning? (alcohol is a drug, you know) yes i am saying the movie is best seen as a metaphor for what can and does happen to human personalities undergoing drug abuse.

Mar 10, 2018

Godawful!!! This movie bombed during its 1950s initial release for one glaringly obvious reason -- it's terrible. The script plays like sub-basement Douglas Sirk: it's all as stiff as cardboard until the real craz-ee strikes, but by then most sensible persons -- long since bored out of their minds -- will have tuned out. The premise that cortisone could induce psychosis I find risible. Admittedly, there's a demented bravura to the scene where Mason tries to stab his son. Nicholas Ray can't direct actors; his only real facility in storytelling lies in the occasional camera placement that splits the frame in a thought-provoking way. Even so, this attempt to stage a horror movie within deliberately banal, middle-America USofA settings falls gratingly FLAT. Most of Ray's films were boring & dreadful. His only enduring success, Rebel Without a Cause, came about through Stewart Stern's masterly script and 3 great leading actors who required no direction -- not that Ray had any to give. Bigger Than Life manages to be even duller than In a Lonely Place, though not quite as tawdry. The Criterion Collection booklet essay, penned by some hack going by the pen name B. Kite, sets a new (low) standard for unbearable pretentiousness.

gord_ma Jun 07, 2017

What once was scandalous in the 1950s, seems as apt and as terrifying as ever in the 2010s as a devoted family man, given months to live, begins a slow and frightening descent into drug-addiction and mental illness. It's a shame that the film, its message, and James Mason's performance were shunned in North America upon the film's release. The film might be forgotten today were it not for the acclaim of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. I, however, will never forget that game of football.

Sep 19, 2016

A note before I start my blog. The comment by 'lukasevansherman' that "God was wrong" disgusts me. Disrespect to the Lord may be permitted by some people but not by me.-------"Bigger than Life", 1956, stars British actor James Mason as a married teacher with a son. The teacher gets a life threatening condition which is treated by the poorly understood drug Cortisone. The drug winds up changing Mason, making him psychotic to such an extent that he nearly murders his own son. The transformation of a loving father and husband is painful to watch but so well acted. Where the film falls down is its' ending. What happens to him if he stops taking the cortisone? We don't find out. Excellently acted film. Barbara Rush is beautiful! Walter Mathau is perfect as the nasal voiced athletic coach. Mathau does not have the kind of personality anyone wants to have themselves but someone has to grudgingly respect.

Oct 31, 2015

"God was wrong."-James Mason in "Bigger than Life"
A rediscovered 50s melodrama with a demented streak. The great James Mason stars as an unassuming schoolteacher whose prescription meds turn him into an arrogant, raging megalomaniac. You don't have the buy the premise to enjoy Mason's transformation from meek teacher to egotistical alpha male. His scenes with his hapless son are especially potent. Mason's so good that everyone else just kinda fades into the background, including Walter Matthau in an early role for him. It's half-great and half-ridiculous, but certainly a shocking film to have been made in the 50s, which was probably why it was a flop. Directed by Nic Ray, who was beloved by the French auteurs and also explored ennui and madness in the suburbs in "Rebel Without a Cause." Extras include an archival interview with Ray and an appreciation by novelist Jonathan Lethem.

Jan 12, 2014

Unbelievable, disturbing acetic content for 1956. I was shocked that something like this existed in those days, and I don't shock easily. A really smart film from Nicholas Ray. The P.T.A. meeting was funny; crazy staircase fight scene between Mason and Matthau.

Mar 25, 2013

Released in 1956 - It seems that Bigger Than Life's subject matter of mental illness and drug addiction was considered to be too controversial for its time and as a result of that this eye-opening film was initially a box-office failure._____ This intense, tightly-scripted, impressively directed Drama concerns the effects of what happens when schoolteacher and family man, Ed Avery (after being diagnosed with a rare inflammation of the arteries), begins to take cortisone tablets as a possible cure. (This was at a time when cortisone was still in its experimental stages in the field of medicine)_____ Ed soon begins to misuse the intake of the cortisone pills and, before long, he's experiencing wild, irrational mood swings that inevitably lead to a psychotic episode which threatens the very safety of his family._____ Featuring a really superb cast, Bigger Than Life was directed by Nicholas Ray, who had also directed Rebel Without A Cause.

Malarie Oct 25, 2012

I really enjoyed this movie. James Mason was a hoot once the movie and the (cortisone) kicked in! Talk about delusions of grandeur. I laughed long and hard when he gave the milk man a piece of his mind!!! lol

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Jan 12, 2014

Ed Avery (mocking the children's artwork displays at the P.T.A. meeting): "Think of it ladies and gentlemen... a hundred thousand schools like this, from coast to coast. Every year whole forests are cut down to supply the paper for these grotesque daubs... and we coo over them as though they were Van Goghs... or Rembrandts..." (cont'd)

Jan 12, 2014

Woman (responding to Ed Avery's mocking of the children's artwork displays at the P.T.A. meeting, cont'd): "I'm afraid Mr. Avery hasn't much faith in the unspoiled instincts of childhood." Ed Avery: "Faith! My dear lady... childhood is a congenital disease and the purpose of education is to cure it! ...I see my point of view is new to many of you. But ask yourselves, how do we describe the unfortunate individual who carries his unspoiled childhood instincts into adult life? ...We say he's arrested. We call him a moron!" Woman: "Well! I'm not at all sure that I like to have my daughter Louise thought of that way! ...And by her teacher!" Ed Avery: "My dear lady, your Louise is a charming little creature, but we must try to examine the problem without prejudice or sentiment! The hard fact remains that your daughter, at her present stage of development, is roughly on an intellectual par with the African gorilla." (flustered oohs and aahs from the parents)

Jan 12, 2014

Ed Avery (holding a pair of scissors and raving/reading to his wife from The Bible about Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac): "...and they came to the place of which God had told him, and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac, his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood; and Abraham stretched forth his hand... and took the knife... to slay his son..." Lou Avery: "But Ed -- you didn't read it all! God stopped Abraham!" Ed Avery: "God was wrong!" (closes The Bible)


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