This is an excellent movie. I saw it once, and I never wish to see it again. I grew up in a household like this, only there was never a solution to my father's mania, depression, and incredible anger. About all I can say about Mr Mason's performance, and that of Ms Rush, is that they could have been my parents, and I could have been that kid. It never got to the point where I was offered up like Isaac, but the rest of it was right, right down to the speech where the father condemns all children because they're ignorant. I'd heard that one. His wife was helpless; they all are. <more>
I do not know where the screenwriters got their dialog, but I hope they didn't learn it the way I did. As it happened, I was terrified and transfixed while watching it, only calming down after the father realized that something was wrong, and vowed to correct it, and there was a means of correcting it. When the movie was over--I don't know if I watched it in the theater or on TV--I had to go home, where there was still rage, and no solution to it. I would have been nine years old. There was a time that I wanted my parents to see that movie, in the hope that they'd realize that this was how they acted, and stop it. It never happened. They were divorced years later. My father was angry and crazy right up to the day he died three years ago. My mother, in her nursing home in Cleveland, maintains that I must be making it all up. M Kinsler
A fast moving gutsy view of what happens within a family when one member becomes manic, in this case from prescription drug addiction/ abuse. A subject that only became widely talked about years and years after this groung breaking film. Pointed out as the last film director Ray made that was set in "modern" times. The end of a cycle for him and one that was personal to Ray who struggled with addictions and troubled home life.There are two other reviewers who need a bit of a lashing. One innocently enough thinks that Barbara Rush, is Barbara Bel Geddes. Another one thinks the <more>
situation of the home craziness being kept at home is wrong and unreal of dated. Sorry Charlie, you've got some of your facts about the plot wrong and you've never seen this kind of craziness.I've personally seen this kind of Manic behavior in real life and this is one of the best, probably the best representation of it ever on the screen, including the religious mania aspects. If you find these aspects funny, they are in their horrible absurdity, very true to the way these manias attach themselves to Manic Depressive behavior. This movie mostly concentrates on the manic side of it.Definitely worth seeing on the big screen or in widescreen. James Mason is a good as he ever was, and he was awfully good many times. This is a great movie on many levels and his performance is one of the best put on film. What restraints were forced on the movie by the era it was made in, actually make it better and more scary than a film which can show vomiting and other drug side effects. This is psychologically horrifying. This emotional craziness is grim enough on its own and makes it all about the drama of the situation rather than the hype and tabloid parts.The scenes with the son dealing with his own father's behavior are especially unsettling and moving. The whole cast is good. Matthau fans will find him perhaps not getting to show all he can do here,but he's good as the buddy character.Pretty much everything works in this film, you can pull symbols out of it if you want, there are plenty to find, but it plays out as fascinating reality.This films reputation is good, but it needs to be more widely seen.
one of the under-looked classics of the 1950s (by Quinoa1984)
I don't know much about cortisone, but from seeing Nicholas Ray's film Bigger Than Life I can have to guess that unless there have been some major medical breakthroughs in the 50 years since this came out, it should have a very huge warning label on the bottle. But it isn't really about cortisone, per-say, even as it does make its case convincingly for the times that such new drugs to possibly help save lives become a double-edged sword. The drug could be anything, it's merely a catalyst for character and story to go into completely un-bound turns. The Avery family could, in <more>
fact, be a Beaver-Cleaver household of the fifties, where 'father knows best' is often a given and the house is as beautiful and elegant- in its suburban middle-class way- as is the outward appearances of the husband, wife and son. But the same catalyst, for the intents and purposes of the changes in all the characters, is utterly fascinating. I couldn't help but actually care about these people, as their sort of sheltered existence became un-covered like some kind of manhole into some metaphoric sewer that many of us sit in. There is something under the surface, and it's one wrong thing that can make it go awry.Ed Avary James Mason is such a man, who is a school-teacher and cab-driver operator on the side, keeping from his wife . He starts getting 'episodes', and has to go to the hospital. It's discovered that he has to live with a heart condition for the rest of his life, and only a new experimental drug, cortisone, can help with regular doses. It doesn't take too long though for things to start going south with Ed, and at first it just seems like he's a little more ornery, a little more on edge, but seemingly trying to still be the old Ed. But then there's his new school-teaching system, and the inducing and steadily increasing paranoia lifting the fog for him what his marriage really means. "I'm only staying now for the boy!" he says in a rage at the dinner table. It becomes clear that he's in the psychosis state, in doing too much of the cortisone, and it lifts not only the comfort of this life, but the expectations and ideals of this seemingly calm, perfunctory existence.There were other pictures around this time being made in Hollywood, within but at the same time under the conventional radars Sirk comes to mind, though still unseen by me . Bigger Than Life is a great example of this, and Ray and Mason get right to the bones of it in the main chunk of the picture. Early on though its interesting to see how the tranquility is set up, and how the first barbs of bad things to come is sort of shielded over, to seem like it's nothing, like it'll be all OK. But the implications that both director and star raise through what they deliver through the material is staggering. On Ray's side, he accentuates things exceptionally by the deception of appearances; it may be a studio-film, with the usual medium-shots and high-glossy lighting and camera moves, yet there's some room for expression, like the shadow that looms over Avary's son during an ultra-tense study session. His command over the style is shown here as one of his finest and, at times, even understated. Though finally in the climax he goes full-throttle, in a scene of possible horror that's given the full subjective treatment.Mason, meanwhile, is really at the top of his game, and it's extremely terrifying to see not just how far he can go into losing all touch with his own reality, but the reality of the usual in distortion. Even through the cortisone, Mason has this character come off at first as a braggart, but sort of believable at a PTA meeting Matthau's gym teacher friend finds something fishy though , and then it doesn't take too long for him to plunge head first into his dementia. A small scene like the one where he gets an extra prescription from his doctor, however, also shows his subtleties. Barbara Rush is also very good as his wife Lou, who as an actress successfully strips away the layers of the very kind, warm, and utmost dutiful wife, and has to actually, finally take charge of things, and do things she wouldn't possibly dream usually, like deception. The son, played by Christopher Olson, might be the weakest link of the three, as he has a character who is, of course, just a boy, and even more put to the extreme test by his father's downward spiral. Even with that it's still a believable turn.It's a piece of subversion that works all the better because of the hidden ambiguities of the ending. The whole facade of things *seemingly* being this way or another, is like one big joke on the audience. But it's not really a funny one; Ray is in your face with his audience, and it's not in a retrospect way either. Things are not all honky-dory in the Eisenhower era, is what Ray says at the core, and at the end it can hardly be read that everything will turn out well for the family. The implications made are much more stronger and lasting than the actual perceived outcome. Will things be under control with the Avary's? Who knows, is what Ray is saying, or that maybe we can learn from mistakes. But the fact that the facade came down like an avalanche is the point. It's even more surprising then to know that this picture is only available on bootlegs, through certain vendors, only occasionally on TV. If you can find it though, it's a real little ruby of a studio picture.
Possible spoilers! I saw this movie years ago, it comes on tv very seldom. The movie is about a teacher who starts taking cortisone and starts acting nuts. Well the same thing happened to me, but I forgot about this movie and connecting it with the drug I was taking. I was put on a massive dose of Prednisone a cortisone..steriod and after a while I thought even though I was feeling better I was yelling and screaming at everyone. Including my mother. I had no idea I was acting this way for a while. To top it off I was angry all of the time and could hardly go out of the house. I saw the movie <more>
while this was going on and realized it was the same medicine I was taking. As crazy as this movie seems it really happens. I felt I was in James Mason's characters head and knew exactly what he was feeling. And the way his family and friends were acting mirrored the looks I was getting too. I was warned that the medicine will make you gain weight and there is a possibility of high sugar counts but not the mood swings. One thing you do not become addicted to the medicine but because it works so well you are afraid to stop taking it. You actually have to be weaned off. And that is a very hard thing to do. I believe Jerry Lewis was in the hospital for months getting weaned of this drug. This movie actually saved me and my sanity. Because while looking at it I realized this is how I was acting. I wish it was on DVD. I am sure if people are warned ahead of time that if you take this medicine for a while you will go nuts and become depressed people will not take it. This movie should be seen by all people who have a chronic illness where prednisone is part of their regiment. I think this movie was made because cortisone..steriods has these terrible side affects and Nick Ray wanted to get the info out there. plain and simple. I don't believe it has any deep seeded psychological message. This movie is more a docu-drama then just a thriller drama. I do know it is not about drug addiction because one does not become addicted to cortisone. Also I do believe it is a warning about anabolic steroids which is also in the same family as cortisone. Good movie.
A fascinating study into 1950s psychology (by andrewnerger)
Nicholas Ray's 'Bigger Than Life' was released to little fanfare in 1956. Ever the proficient filmmaker, it was Ray's third film in the span of a year. Following the hugely successful 'Rebel Without a Cause' and the forgotten 'Hot Blood'.Like 'Rebel' before it, 'Bigger Than Life' attempted to address a prevalent issue that was more often than not ignored by the majority of filmmakers. In 'Rebel' it was all about teenager disillusionment with their place in society and their disenchantment with their parents generation. In 'Bigger <more>
Than Life' it focuses on the surprisingly forward topic of the dangers on drug overdose. Moreover it creates an interesting debate on the dangers of conformity.The story was inspired on an article by Burton Roueche, a medical writer for the New Yorker. Roueche was a highly intelligent writer who wrote of many case studies and the film's narrative was based on a case he had chronicled in the danger of experimental drugs. The film avoids documentary style analysis and instead experiments with melodrama and it mostly succeeds in getting its points across.The film's protagonist, Ed Avery Mason is a family man who is devoted to his wife Lou Rush and his son Richie. Having problems in keeping up financially, he is employed in two jobs so that he can afford to keep their household running. The Avery's are an average American family and according to Ed are boring. They enjoy all the benefits of the typical 50s American family. They own a house, a station-wagon, a television and they have a group of friends to play bridge. Where the film delivers is in what it doesn't tell the viewer. This can be seen, for instance, in the Avery's desire to have something more than their domestic life provides. Their house, containing multiple tourism posters for world destinations, such as London and Madrid - hints at the desire to break free, yet this is a family that is unable to travel to these places, limited to viewing them from afar, on their wall.Perhaps owing to his extra work, Ed begins to experience terrible pain, but ignores it deciding that he is just overly tired. One day after hosting a bridge evening, Ed falls unconscious in his bedroom after having an argument with his wife and he is hospitalised. Whilst in hospital, the doctors are particularly concerned with his symptoms and bring in several specialists who eventually diagnose him with a rare inflammation of the arteries. They say that his case will prove to be fatal, unless he takes an experimental drug, 'a miracle drug' - a cortisone injection, but in pill form. Ed agrees to take it and eventually is released from hospital, but not before being warned by his doctor to only take one tablet every 6 hours - no more, no less.Upon being released from hospital, Ed feels great and returns to work immediately. Whilst taking the drug his moods vary significantly, but he feels great when he takes the correct amount, but his mood changes quite significantly when he overdoses. His personality completely changes and this ranges from making insulting yet viable statements on the state of child development to snapping at his wife and child. The drugs have changed him, but he is unable to come off them because he could die without them.The film has been called by numerous critics as an attack on 1950s conformity. Ed is freed from these standards when he takes the drug, and the effects are truthful, yet terrifying. There is a scene in Ed's school where he complains of society raising their children as a race of 'moral midgets'. He delivers his points in an almost Fascistic method and one parent even jumps up and declares how Ed is correct in his opinions. His teaching friend Wally Matthau is concerned at Ed's sudden change and break from conformity and eventually discovers that it is a side-effect of the cortisone.The film is magnificently shot with Ray's famous expressionist shadows employed in the later segments of the film, particularly when Ed is in pain or has his mood swings. The bouts of pain that Ed experiences are shot exactly like a scene in Mamoulian's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' - dark shadows employed and Mason's face is obscured. Close-ups are often used in order to emphasise Ed's mood. Perhaps the most potent imagery in the film however is the use of the broken mirror, which could be seen as representing Ed's breaking free of conformity. The concluding fight with its carnival music blaring from a television is reminiscent of 'Strangers on a Train', but it is also terrifying. Ed's transformation is so significant that Ray questions whether it is just the drug that changes Ed. Are these psychotic tendencies inherent in all humans? Perhaps the only real weakness in the film is in the overly happy ending. It would perhaps be unfair to criticise a film for having a happy ending, especially in one that was produced under the production code, but with Ed's prognosis being that of having to take the drug for the rest of his life and under strict supervision, the character's future looks bleak - a fact that is glossed over by the ending.All in all, however, 'Larger Than Life' is a highly recommended film that was ahead of its time. I feel that its current rating of 7.1 is unfair, but this is perhaps due to the lack of its availability on video. In my opinion this is a film that deserves to be on a par with Ray's other classic 'Rebel Without a Cause'.
There's more going on here than just a father/husband abusing a prescription drug. What drove him--a full-time schoolteacher--to secretly moonlight as a cab dispatcher? What motivated his quest to clothe his wife beyond their means or drive his young son to the breaking point to shine in football and math? For that matter, what urged his over indulgence in Cortisone in the first place? Could it be a deep-seated depression in trying to measure up in mid-50s suburbia, to keep up with the Joneses and gain acceptance with the in-crowd through posturing as superior--all the while wrestling in <more>
elitist middle class values?Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life" is a scathing expose of the underbelly of this period and lifestyle. Things certainly weren't as cozy as previously painted, and the insatiable drive toward peer acceptance may be the underlying cause of the hero's problems. James Mason offers a powerful portrait of a very pathetic suburban victim; Barbara Rush is his dutiful wife, and Christoper Olsen his sympathetic son.
Nicholas Ray was one of the greatest directors to come out of Hollywood. His movies are always about something and that something has a cinematic flair that makes the experience thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining. Here is Cortisone the excuse for a slap in the face of a society that was getting more complacent and more spoiled with an avalanche of "new" things coming to overwhelm our daily lives. "We're dull, we're all dull" tells James Mason to his wife. Barbara Rush is superb as a Donna Reed type with a monster in the house. James Mason, a few years <more>
away from Lolita, also produced this rarely seen classic and gives a performance of daring highs. Highly recommended to movie lovers everywhere.
Although referring to cortisone,"Bigger than life" is rayesque to the core.Davey "Run for cover" Plato and Jim "rebel without a cause" and the Chinese girl "55 days at Peking" were in search of a father.Even the Jeff/Wes relationship in "lusty men" is of the same kind.Cortisone is just an alibi.The subject of the film is the paternal power .And this father is also a teacher!The PTA meeting is revealing!Richie has got a father.But there's a crack in the mirror Ed's broken reflection is the key to the movie .Little by little,we <more>
feel there's something irrational in his attitude.Buying clothes ,It's very natural !Playing football with your sonny,is a right thing to do to be good friends.But ,thanks to James Mason's sensational performance,we feel ill-at-ease,even scared .This fear will culminate in the arithmetic lesson where Mason 's shadow on the wall is terrifying when Barbara Rush enters the room,see her tiny shadow !it's a lesson in directing a movie .And being a father is not far from being a God .After hearing again in the church the prodigal son story ,it's only natural in Ed's case to feel like Abraham . His final dream -which we do not see- is extraordinary .It might be a warning against pills ,drugs and all that stuff.But I rather think it's a warning against "overeducation".As a teacher,I heard about a student's father who spent a WHOLE Saturday afternoon to make sure his unfortunate son did understand the multiples .Superb performance by James Mason the scene when his face suddenly appears in the mirror as his boy is searching his room is really spooky ,good support from Barbara Rush,Walter Matthau and young Christopher Olsen.
Childhood is a congenital disease - and the purpose of education is to cure it. We're breeding a race of moral midgets. (by lastliberal)
An absolutely fascinating story about the boring and depressing suburban life. An American beauty in the 50s.James Mason, a school teacher, is so ashamed that he is a taxi dispatcher after school that he lets his wife Barbara Rush imagine he is having an affair because that would be less traumatic.He contracts a rare disease and has to take what he calls a "miracle drug." It's cortisone, and he begins to suffer manic and depressive side effects. he goes out and spends money like crazy when he had to work part time just to pay the bills. He then gets so depressed he ups his <more>
dosage without telling his doctor.The manic and depressive episodes turn to a grandiosity. While his friend Wally Walter Matthau is trying to get him to a psychiatrist, his wife is concerned about appearances and refuses. When he presents her with a journal article, she becomes very concerned.Before she can do anything, however, he has a psychotic break and almost succeeds in killing his son.As one would expect in a 50s movie, everything works out in the end.Mason was outstanding, and Rush and Matthau were very good. The movie was well worth watching and one that everyone should see.