Bigger Than Life

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Bigger Than Life

James Mason has a monkey on his back. A teacher who suffers from debilitating pain due to inflamed arteries, Mason’s Ed Avery is prescribed the latest “miracle drug”—cortisone—to combat the attacks. The longer Avery pops his pills, the more he starts to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior: taking his spouse (Rush) on impulsive spending sprees, playing football in the house with his son. The sudden fits of aggression, however, are what worry Avery’s wife and his colleague (Matthau)—that, and the Objectivist rants he unleashes during a parent-teacher evening. (“Childhood is a congenital disease, and the purpose of education is to cure it.”)

But the cortisone is just the key that opens the cage. The real Kong-size simian is the ideal of ’50s masculinity, in which the modern family man is the dictator of all he surveys. Once this sitcom father gone mad is inspired by the story of Abraham and his delusions of grandeur reach a fever pitch, filmgoers are treated to the greatest moment of Eisenhower-era male hysteria: the sight of James Mason bellowing “God was wrong!

Nicholas Ray’s adaptation of a New Yorker article about one man’s descent into prescription-drug hell nearly derailed his Hollywood career. But if you need proof of Godard’s assertion that “the cinema is Nicholas Ray,” it’s all here, in every claustrophobic close-up and looming low-angle shot. The suits wanted a torn-from-the-headlines melodrama; what they got was the director at his expressionistic best, subverting the suburban fantasy and leaving nothing but tattered gray flannel and scorched earth in his wake.

Release details

Rated: NR
Release date: Thursday August 2 1956
Duration: 95 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenwriter: Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum
Cast: James Mason
Barbara Rush
Walter Matthau
Robert Simon
Roland Winters
Christopher Olsen