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Bigger Than Life (1956)

Not Rated | | Drama | 2 August 1956 (USA)
A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity.

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Writers:

(story and screenplay), (story and screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Ed Avery
...
Lou Avery
...
Wally Gibbs
...
Dr. Norton (as Robert Simon)
Christopher Olsen ...
Richie Avery
...
Dr. Ruric
Rusty Lane ...
Bob LaPorte
Rachel Stephens ...
Nurse
...
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:

Life Saver or Life Destroyer? See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Language:

Release Date:

2 August 1956 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

One in a Million  »

Company Credits

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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

The young actor playing a cameo role as a student drawing a picture of a man who is angry with his mother (when Ed briefly covers a class for a co-worker) is Jerry Mathers, who would go on to play Beaver Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver (1957) a few years later. See more »

Goofs

When Ed has a Barium X-Ray the image of the swallowed fluid is anatomically inaccurate. The fluid falls straight down to an extremely large "stomach" in his groin area. See more »

Quotes

Ed Avery: God was wrong!
See more »

Connections

Referenced in At the Movies: Summer Special 2008/09 (2008) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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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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