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Bigger Than Life (1956)

 -  Drama  -  2 August 1956 (USA)
7.6
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 3,611 users  
Reviews: 51 user | 55 critic

A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity.

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(story), (story), 5 more credits »
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Title: Bigger Than Life (1956)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Ed Avery
...
Lou Avery
...
Wally Gibbs
Robert F. Simon ...
Dr. Norton (as Robert Simon)
Christopher Olsen ...
Richie Avery
Roland Winters ...
Dr. Ruric
Rusty Lane ...
Bob LaPorte
Rachel Stephens ...
Nurse
Kipp Hamilton ...
Pat Wade
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Storyline

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 <genekim@concentric.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A theme so vital... we urge you to bring all your compassion and understanding to it! See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

2 August 1956 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

One in a Million  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

(optical prints) (Westrex Recording System)| (magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Though only Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum are credited for the screenplay, the shooting script was entirely re-worked by director Nicholas Ray and actor/producer James Mason, who added the first 20 minutes of the film depicting Ed Avery's daily life before being hospitalized. Re-writes by Ray, his friend Gavin Lambert (who at that time was living together with Ray, recently confessing that they were actually lovers) and Clifford Odets went on all through the shooting process. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Ed Avery: Childhood is a congenital disease - and the purpose of education is to cure it. We're breeding a race of moral midgets.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Contempt (1963) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Warning against prescription-drug abuse, or guerrilla attack on ‘50s complacency?
27 July 2003 | by (Western New York) – See all my reviews

Bigger Than Life does to cortisone what Reefer Madness did to cannabis. Based on a true report published in The New Yorker, it's an exasperatingly schizoid movie that seems on the verge of boiling over into scalding social satire but stays within the safe confines of its premise – or its gimmick.

Schoolteacher James Mason lives a self-admittedly `dull' life trying to provide for wife Barbara Rush and their son by moonlighting as a cab dispatcher (a fact which he keeps secret but which ends up having no impact on the plot). He's also hiding a series of incapacitating attacks until he's diagnosed with a rare arterial disease, for which the treatment is the new `miracle' drug cortisone.

It works so well he starts popping it compulsively, and soon he's skittering along a grandiose, manic parabola: Tossing around his old college pigskin inside the house, buying haute couture for the mousy Rush, spouting crackpot theories on child-rearing at PTA meetings. Next he's forging prescriptions, whipping his son into shape by withholding meals until the dunce gets his math homework right, and planning a Biblical sacrifice.

The original article had to have focused on the drug's side effects – how its use or misuse can cause psychotic symptoms among some patients. But what should have been a documentary got pumped up into a color potboiler. Somewhere along the way it, like Mason, took leave of its senses – it's like Father Knows Best: The Episode From Hell.

Not only does everyone realize that Mason's flamboyantly deranged, they know why: the cortisone. But in the rigid world of middle-class conformity appearances are paramount, so they act as if nothing is amiss. So even when Mason is tearing around after their son with a pair of scissors while ranting about Abraham and Issac, Rush is still humoring him and whispering into the telephone. She has no trouble eating the faces off his doctors (a detail that's out of character), but with her lord and master she might as well be a Stepford Wife.

Is this a case of Illness-as-Metaphor? Under cover of a drug-scare movie, is Bigger Than Life really a guerrilla assault at patriarchal America in the 1950s? If so, it pulls too many punches (or had its punches pulled for it). As it survives, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life does take a lurid look at a terrifying disorder: Codependency.


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