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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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1 nomination. See more awards »
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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:

The Motion Picture You've Been Hearing About ... Reading About ... And Talking About! 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

In his first class to the students after being released from the hospital, Ed talks about Julius Caesar. James Mason previously appeared in Julius Caesar (1953). 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: [of wife Lou] It's a shame that I didn't marry someone who was my intellectual equal.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Edge of Outside (2006) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Could have been a chiller
10 May 2008 | by (England) – See all my reviews

I finally caught up with this film at the National Film Theatre after missing it at least twice on late-night television broadcasts -- and I suppose by that point I had inflated expectations. But I'm afraid I actually felt rather let down.

Praised for its 'taut' 95-minute length and lauded as a 'searing critique' of 1950s American middle-class society, "Bigger than Life" certainly wasn't supposed to be boring; and it does indeed have a tense psychotic climax near the end. It did seem to take an awfully long time to get there, though, and judging by overheard conversation on the way out, the snoring from the row behind, and the surreptitious rearrangements of limbs around me in the hot auditorium, I wasn't the only one to feel that way...

The film came across as falling between two stools; I wasn't certain if it was being presented as a realistic social drama or an exploitation horror/ thriller. Considered in the latter light, it would obviously carry an awful lot of tedious excess baggage, but as a social/medical exposé it seems massively overwrought, and the ending (studio-imposed?) sits ill with either. Moral issues of quality of life -- is it better to lose the patient physically or mentally? -- appear to be flirted with briefly and then abandoned in favour of all-out psycho thrills.

Under a different director, the material might have made for a good horror movie. With a different treatment I can see it as a 'social issues' film in the old style, like "The Black Legion" or "Dead End" (both of which are also effective thrillers in their own right)... and I can just about grasp how it has been portrayed as a black-comedy satire on an American family stereotype. But despite the presence of the talented James Mason (often looking bizarrely flattened as the film attempted to contort him into an ultra-widescreen frame that I found frankly off-putting -- perhaps the weird visual constructions were a deliberate attempt to set the viewers' world on edge?) I couldn't feel that the existing picture was really satisfactory in any of these fields, let alone in a theoretical synthesis of all of them.

I'd say that its most effective strand is probably in the treatment of the final weekend as straight-out chiller tension in the style of Kubrick's "The Shining", as the central character becomes increasingly irrational. (Kubrick's version in particular, since his adaptation shares the same issue in that it's hard to keep any audience sympathy for a character acting weirdly when you can't see inside his head -- he becomes pure monster, losing a potential dimension thereby.) Elsewhere, there seem to be too many elements tossed into the mix and then apparently abandoned: Ed's taxi work, the attractive young teacher, money issues (I'm sure there's supposed to be some sub-plot about the orange dress, but whatever that strand is boiling up to, it never appears on-screen), forging prescriptions, school and parent politics -- the film keeps on throwing fresh strands in with a scattergun effect, but doesn't tie them together. Maybe it's realism, in that real life doesn't match up to the neat significance of Chekhov's first-act gun: but as drama it left me feeling pulled through a hedge backwards.


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