dir. Nicholas Ray, US, 1956, 35mm, 90 mins, color
Though ignored at the time of its release, Bigger than Life is now recognized as one of the great American films of the '50s. When a friendly, successful suburban teacher and father (James Mason in one of his most indelible roles) is prescribed cortisone for a painful, possibly fatal affliction, he grows dangerously addicted to the experimental drug, resulting in his transformation into a psychotic and ultimately violent household despot. This Eisenhower-era throat-grabber, shot in expressive CinemaScope, is an excoriating take on the nuclear family. That it came in the day of Father Knows Best makes it all the more shocking and wildly entertaining.
Directors in Focus: Nicholas Ray
Nicholas Ray (1911–1979), lived a bold and adventurous life, always searching for a deeper understanding of himself and his world. Leaving the University of Chicago after a year, he made such an impression on his professor, writer Thornton Wilder that Ray was recommended for a scholarship with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, learning the importance of space and geography, informing his later love for CinemaScope. His career touched every aspect of American culture and included his direction of such classics as They Live by Night, Johnny Guitar, In A Lonely Place and Rebel Without A Cause. When the Hollywood system became too restrictive, Ray exiled himself to Europe, where he lived for 10 years, returning to the States in 1969. In 1977 he came to grips with his alcohol addiction and turned to teaching, which he was quoted as saying was the most fulfilling work of his life, culminating in the film We Can’t Go Home Again.