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Bigger Than Life
     

Bigger Than Life

4.2 4
Director: Nicholas Ray

Cast: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau

 

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Based on an article in the New Yorker, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life stars James Mason (who also produced the film) as elementary school teacher Ed Avery, a thoughtful, gentle man, with a loving wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and a young son, Richie (Christopher Olsen), who loves him. Avery is successful and well liked in his community, but he is over-extended in

Overview

Based on an article in the New Yorker, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life stars James Mason (who also produced the film) as elementary school teacher Ed Avery, a thoughtful, gentle man, with a loving wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and a young son, Richie (Christopher Olsen), who loves him. Avery is successful and well liked in his community, but he is over-extended in his pursuit of the American dream -- he secretly works a second job to earn extra money, and doesn't dare break stride, despite the increasingly painful physical spasms that he suffers. He collapses one day, and the doctors inform him that he suffers from an arterial disease that will probably give him less than a year to live. But they also offer him one hope, with treatment using cortisone, which was then a new, not-fully-tested drug. Avery makes a seemingly full recovery and returns to work, but it soon becomes clear that he's not the same -- he has a new, cavalier attitude toward money, and then Lou becomes alarmed over his expressions of rage over seemingly insignificant annoyances. He starts expressing himself in grand, exalted terms, first to Lou and then to his colleagues at school, including his closest friend, Wally Gibbs (Walter Matthau). And matters only get worse when Wally determines that it is the cortisone -- which Ed has been taking in far greater doses than prescribed -- that is making him act this way. And his obsession w ith forcing Richie to live up to his full potential soon turns into a much darker fixation. Director Ray later offered regret over having used cortisone by name, as it was still not standard treatment and its benefits and drawbacks weren't known. But this did lend the movie a verisimilitude that was essential for what appeal it did hold for audiences. (Seven years later, screenwriter William Read Woodfield would incorporate Bigger Than Life's cortisone plot device into his script for the Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea episode \Mutiny\. Bigger Than Life's more immediate problem at the time lay in its broader plot -- with a story that brought drug addiction and fact-based psychological unhingement into a suburban American setting, it was a daring subject for its time, for which audiences were unprepared in 1956. It was also one of a group of offbeat pictures that Mason produced as well as starred in.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life never achieved the critical or popular success of his Rebel Without a Cause, released the previous year, but it holds up as an equally powerful look at the dark and troubling underside of life in a "normal" American family. While Rebel Without a Cause explored the impact of a weak and ineffectual father on a teenager struggling to assert his maturity and masculinity, Bigger Than Life examined the other side of a similar situation, as Ed Avery (James Mason) slowly mutates into an aggressively domineering father willing to murder a child who can't live up to his high standards. While on the surface Bigger Than Life is a warning about the use of untested and possibly dangerous drugs (Avery's psychosis is brought on by dangerously high dosages of cortisone, still in the experimental stages at the time), what's most memorable about the film is Mason's superbly modulated performance (one of the best of his career), in which he gradually transforms from a typical high school teacher and suburban dad into a megalomaniac who refuses to accept anything less than perfection from his students or his family -- even going so far to suggest he can do better than God in his judgment of his son's worth. Mason and Ray took the typically over-ambitious father who pesters Junior for good grades and a home run in his next little league game, and exaggerated him into something truly terrifying; if Rebel Without a Cause made suggested that juvenile delinquency could happen in a "good" home, Bigger Than Life went even farther in suggesting just how sinister a "good" home could be.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/23/2010
UPC:
0715515054812
Original Release:
1956
Rating:
NR
Source:
Criterion
Region Code:
1
Presentation:
[Wide Screen]
Sound:
[Dolby Digital Mono]
Time:
1:35:00
Sales rank:
37,769

Special Features

Audio commentary featuring critic Geoff Andrew (the films of nicholas ray); Profile of Nicholas Ray (1977), a half-hour television interview with the director; New video appreciation of bigger than life with author Jonathan Lethem (chronic city); New video interview with Susan Ray, widow of the director and editor of I was interrrupted: Nicholas Ray on making movies; Theatrical trailer; Plus: a booklet featuring as essay by critic and video maker B. Kite

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
James Mason Ed Avery
Barbara Rush Mrs. Lou Avery
Walter Matthau Wally Gibbs
Robert Simon Dr. Norton
Christopher Olsen Richie Avery
Roland Winters Dr. Rurich
Rusty Lane La Porte
Rachel Stephens Nurse
Kipp Hamilton Pat Wade
Betty Caulfield Mrs. La Porte
Virginia Carroll Mrs. Jones
Renny McEvoy Mr. Jones
Billy Jones Mr. Byron
Lee Aaker Joe
Jerry Mathers Freddie
Portland Mason Nancy
Natalie Masters Mrs Tyndal
Richard Collier Milkman
Lewis Charles Dr MacLennan
Gus Schilling Druggist
Alex Frazer Clergyman
Mary Carver Saleslady
Eugenia Paul Saleslady
Nan Dolan Dr. Norton's Nurse
William Schallert Pharmacist

Technical Credits
Nicholas Ray Director
Eli Dunn Asst. Director
W.D. Flick Sound/Sound Designer
Cyril Hume Original Story,Screenwriter
Charles LeMaire Costumes/Costume Designer
Harry M. Leonard Sound/Sound Designer
Louis Loeffler Editor
Joe MacDonald Cinematographer
Richard Maibaum Original Story,Screenwriter
James Mason Producer
Ben Nye Makeup
David Raksin Score Composer
Stuart A. Reiss Set Decoration/Design
Walter Scott Set Decoration/Design
Jack Martin Smith Art Director
Lyle Wheeler Art Director
Mary Wills Costumes/Costume Designer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Bigger Than Life
1. Opening Credits [1:47]
2. On The Side [4:18]
3. Tensions Grow [6:19]
4. Glory Days Gone [4:20]
5. Under Observation [3:14]
6. Poor Prognosis [3:51]
7. A Miracle Drug [3:33]
8. Ten Feet Tall [2:57]
9. Big Surprises [4:34]
10. Keyed Up [5:50]
11. Side Effects [3:35]
12. New Point Of View [1:13]
13. Suspicions [4:14]
14. Long-Term Dangers [10:25]
15. Ed's Program [6:30]
16. Missing Milk [5:14]
17. Word Of God [2:13]
18. "God Was Wrong" [:51]
19. Staircase Showdown [9:59]
20. The Brighter Side [2:08]
1. A Grown-Up Rebel [1:47]
2. James Mason's Perfection [4:18]
3. Deceit and Claustrophobia [6:19]
4. Symbols Of Note [4:20]
5. Underlining A Nightmare [3:14]
6. The Roueché Article [3:51]
7. Colorful Codes [3:33]
8. A Colossus/Lighter Moments [2:57]
9. Middle-Class Aspirations [4:34]
10. Tensions In Performances [5:50]
11. Reflecting Ray's Life [3:35]
12. Social Critique Through School [1:13]
13. Atmosphere Of Distrust [4:14]
14. Reassuring Ed's Power [10:25]
15. A Believable Monster [6:30]
16. Shattering Balance [5:14]
17. Channeling Hunter [2:13]
18. Lou's Colors/Oedipal Ties [:51]
19. Out-Of-Control Expression [9:59]
20. Odets Rewrites/No Resolution [2:08]

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Bigger Than Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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