#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)

#127 Blackboard Jungle

Watched: August 20 2017

Director: Richard Brooks

Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Margaret Hayes, Louis Calhern, Jamie Farr

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Soft-spoken navy veteran Richard Dadier (Ford) gets his first teaching position in an inner-city school in a big city (New York?). While the school has a bad reputation, the principal denies any discipline problems.

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We’re slightly inclined to agree as all students are shown actually sitting at their desks. Dream scenario!

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Despite the principal’s assurances, the kids are disruptive, disrespectful and generally difficult, and Dadier’s commitment to his job is quickly dwindling. After stopping an attempted rape on a colleague, the students turn on him and attack him and another teacher in an alley. In addition, Dadier’s pregnant (and victim-blaming) wife Anne (Francis) starts to receive anonymous phone calls and letters claiming her husband is having an affair.

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“How do I reach these kiiiids?”

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Dadier notices that Gregory Miller (Poitier) is a natural leader and that the other students tend to follow his lead, so he proposes that they work together to get the class on the right track. Will they manage to build a relationship and turn this class around? Or is Miller the one sabotaging Dadier’s job and marriage?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiids?”

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From the opening credits set to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & his Comets to the integrated classroom, it is clear that this was a progressive film upon its release only one year after segregated education was deemed unconstitutional in the USA.

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Bringing weapons to school is a long-standing American tradition (somewhat) backed up by the same constitution by the way. Just to put things in perspective.

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We loved Blackboard Jungle, which we fittingly watched the day before the new school year started (and Sister the Oldest went back to teaching). Glenn Ford’s Dadier is a flawed hero who comes face to face with a lot of his own prejudices, and Sidney Poitier really stands out as Miller and saves him from becoming a cliché “angry black man.”

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Also, there’s young Klinger!

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It’s historically very interesting, and films like it are still being made (idealistic teacher in inner-city school), including an (awesome) episode of South Park. What’s not to love?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiiiiiiids???”

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What we learned: Don’t ever give up on the kids. Unless they pull a knife on you. Also, Sister the Oldest is very grateful she has the students she has…

Next time: Diabolique/Les diaboliques (1955)