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Schoolteacher and family man Ed Avery, who's been suffering bouts of severe pain and even blackouts, is hospitalized with what's diagnosed as a rare inflammation of the arteries. Told by doctors that he probably has only months to live, Ed agrees to an experimental treatment: doses of the hormone cortisone. Ed makes a remarkable recovery, and returns home to his wife, Lou, and their son, Richie. He must keep taking cortisone tablets regularly to prevent a recurrence of his illness. But the "miracle" cure turns into its own nightmare as Ed starts to abuse the tablets, causing him to experience increasingly wild mood swings. Written by
Eugene Kim <email@example.com>
37 minutes into the movie, Ed is at the bathroom sink and has just replaced the pill bottle in the medicine cabinet. As he closes the cabinet door, the director and the camera are reflected in the mirror. See more »
Childhood is a congenital disease - and the purpose of education is to cure it. We're breeding a race of moral midgets.
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James Mason produced the movie, suggesting to me that it was he who got this very noncommercial property filmed and released. It's a top-notch cast directed by cult favorite Nicholas Ray, but the material is a decided downer despite the originality. There were several films out at the time dealing with drug addiction (e.g. Hatful of Rain, Man with the Golden Arm). This, however, is the only one I know dealing with addiction to a prescription drug, Cortisone. Since similar attachments have spread over the decades, the theme has come to anticipate a more general social problem. Thus, its relevance carries over even for today's audiences.
Mason plays Ed Avery, a high-school teacher and normal family man. I like the way the screenplay works in the fact that he can't support a family on a teacher's income, and so has a second job as a cabbie. As a result, his day is filled from dawn to dusk. Small wonder, then, that he begins suffering blackouts, which doctors diagnose as a rare arterial disorder. (It's not made clear what has caused the problem. Overwork? Genetics?) A new drug, Cortisone, is prescribed for an indefinite period of usage. Up to now, Ed has been a friendly, well-liked family man and co-worker. So it's a harrowing trajectory to watch him go through increasingly intense periods of mental breakdown as a side effect of the new drug.
It's an excruciating descent into delusions of grandeur and megalomania, with few efforts at softening the agony. As the delusions mount, Ed abusively lectures a PTA meeting, berates and condemns his wife (Rush), becomes a Nazi-like taskmaster to his son (Olsen), and even tries to re-enact Abraham's sacrifice of son Isaac. Now, there were many so-called scary B- movies out at the time. But none, I believe, are any scarier than Mason's portrayal of the ravaged high-school teacher. Probably half the audience went home to check their medicine chest.
The only fault I find is with wife Lou's behavior. In my book, she's too passive to be believable in the face of the growing ordeal, especially as her son is affected. Ray brings out an unusual but expected degree of intensity in Mason's performance, with another of his trademarks centering on the action around the family staircase, perhaps symbolizing the mounting madness. Also, I wouldn't be surprised that Ray and Mason took a cut in pay to get the project made. The only concession to commercialism that I can spot is the expected 1950's ending, which nonetheless is more a relief than a disappointmenta tribute, I think, to the caliber of what's there on screen. Anyway, the movie comes across as an unusual and searing melodrama, prescient for its time.
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