Watched: October 4 2017
Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau
Runtime: 1h 35min
School’s out for Easter. What a dream! Though not for teacher Ed Avery (Mason), who suffers stomach pains and is on his way to his second job as a cab dispatcher. Despite his clear discomfort and his rush to get to his second, secret, job, he takes the time to give a student a break and to play matchmaker for a couple of colleagues. An all round good guy!
After a dinner party, Ed collapses and his wife Lou (Rush) and BFF Wally (Matthau) get him to the hospital. The doctors run a series of tests, including a very cool and quite possibly cancer-inducing X-Ray with barium, and are discouraged by what they find. Without treatment, Ed has less than a year to live.
The only treatment found to be somewhat effective is the newly discovered (possibly?) hormone cortisone, but it can have serious side-effects. After weeks of experimenting, a proper dosage is found, and Ed is sent back home with a few weeks’ supply of cortisone pills.
In time, Lou starts noticing some changes in her husband’s personality. He is more adventurous and spontaneous, but less sensible and responsible. He is energetic and manic with terrible mood swings and occasional tremors.
As Ed’s solution is to up his cortisone intake, his new personality traits develop into full blown delusions of grandeur, complete with a new tyrannical approach to family life.
Bigger Than Life is very dramatic, and Ed’s development throughout the film goes from one extreme to the next. We loved the X-Ray/barium scene, the dramatic crescendo of the ending, the shadows and the general craziness. It may not be a film we’ll rewatch over and over again, but it is definitely worth watching once.
What we learned: Teachers owe it to themselves to be sick on school days – not during vacation. Word! Also, stick to the prescribed dosage.
Next time: Forbidden Planet (1956)