#138 Bigger Than Life

Watched: October 4 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 35min

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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!

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Pictured: every teacher’s face at vacation time

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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.

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A life span further reduced by the liberal helpings of barium and x-radiation

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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.

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Ed’s medication gives him a new appreciation for fancy clothes and shopping sprees. There’s a chance we may have too much cortisone in our systems…

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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.

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There’s always a possibility he is possessed, according to the mirror

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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.

 

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Even his shadow gets in on the action, looming threateningly over his young son Richie

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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)

#131 Rebel Without a Cause

Watched: August 28 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Corey Allen, Jim Backus, Ann Doran

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Jim Stark (Dean) is a troubled teenager with anger issues, a bit of a drinking problem, and an aversion to being called a chicken. He starts his new life in a new town by being thrown in the drunk tank and then getting into trouble with the local “tough guys.”

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He does make one friend, but that guy’s no good in a fight

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After trying to hit on Judy (Wood), and failing miserably, he tries to ingratiate himself with her gang by cracking jokes during a class field trip to a planetarium, but they do not find him amusing. In fact, they find him so unamusing that they vandalize his car and threaten his life after school.

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Look, we hate people who talk during movies and lectures as much as the next person, but we do feel like this is overreacting a tad…

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Jim, insecure in his masculinity, is infuriated when he’s called a chicken, and he agrees to meet the gang’s leader for a “Chickie run” that evening. Which goes about as well as you’d expect.

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He does get to smooch up a bit with Judy though, so it’s not all bad

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Bad things happen, people gang up on our hero, his parents give bad advice, and the kindly police officer he bonded with in the beginning is unavailable, so Jim is at a loss. He teams up with Judy and his only other friend Plato (Mineo) and they hide in an abandoned mansion in the outskirts of town.

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We’re impressed with Judy’s ability to cope with her boyfriend’s death by getting it on with his main rival. However, it might be an upgrade…

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Believe it or not, this was actually our first time watching this film despite its status as a classic. We’re glad we finally got around to it though – it was beautiful, dramatic and moving, and James Dean was just filled with charisma and raw energy.

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*Swoon*

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The characters are damaged and flawed, but sympathetic. We initially really disliked Judy (we’re a bit over the “good-but-misunderstood-girl-with-daddy-issues-and-a-crappy-boyfriend”-thing), but she actually managed to grow on us, and her motivation was understandable. Jim is basically a good guy with crappy if well-meaning parents and his own daddy-issues, but he does have a good heart.

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And a killer red jacket!

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Plato is by far the saddest character. Always on his own, with the housekeeper his only parental figure, he comes to see Jim as a father and role model as much as a friend. Wait – another person with daddy-issues? We’re beginning to see a pattern here…

We’re slightly ashamed we haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause until now, because we get what all the fuss (or fuzz?) is about. If you’re as behind on the times as us, we recommend you delay it no longer. It’s definitely worth the watch, and it does not seem outdated at all; even if the methods of kids’ rebellions might have changed a bit with the times, their causes are still present.

What we learned: Listen to your kids. And take responsibility for them.

Next time: Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)

#99 In a Lonely Place

Watched: April 24 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart (no, not that one)

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 34min

In a Lovely Place

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Dix Steele (Bogart) is a successful screen writer whose career is in a bit of a slump. He is about to adapt a novel into a screenplay, and as he cannot be bothered reading the source material, he invites the adorable Mildred (Stewart) home to tell him the story. She cancels her date and goes home with him, and at the end of the night he gives her money for a taxi and sends her on her way.

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Dix is too busy creeping on his neighbour to pay attention to the girl in his apartment

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When Mildred turns up dead the next day, Dix becomes the prime suspect; he was the last one to see her alive, he has a violent temper and also a somewhat unsettling fascination with murder. In addition, he doesn’t really seem too bothered by the whole affair, which is always a red flag for law enforcement (we have learned through movies). However, his neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame) provides an alibi as she witnessed Mildred leaving the writer’s apartment, and the police let him go.

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Seems the whole creeping-on-the-neighbour-thing went both ways

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The two start a relationship (which is kind of a bad idea since she’s basically the only thing standing between him and a lengthy prison sentence) and quickly start spending all of their time together with Laurel working as Dix’s secretary/assistant. While their relationship seems to be mostly good, Laurel is gradually exposed to her boyfriend’s explosive temper and, as in Suspicion, starts doubting his innocence and her own safety.

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Not the face of a happy woman

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We won’t reveal too much of what transpires, but In a Lonely Place is a captivating Noir thriller and we never tire of watching Humphrey Bogart being super cool and somewhat menacing, though here also strangely vulnerable. Gloria Grahame is also excellent and holds her own with her iconic co-star.

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In between the tension and doubt there are also sweet and romantic moments

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It’s an excellent film with a compelling (though ultimately fairly unimportant) murder mystery and a very intriguing relationship. The characters are flawed and deeply human, and while their choices may not always be good, they are understandable.

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They could have been so good together…

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What we learned: First chance we get, we’re legally changing our names to Dix Steele.

Next time: #100! Los Olvidados (1950)