Bigger Than Life

Bigger Than Life ★★★★½

Trust Nicholas Ray to take a melodramatic conceit and find the humanity in it. What starts as a regular Hollywood golden-age tale of a man battling manfully with his inner demons soon becomes much more interesting.

It’s the story of a pleasant schoolteacher – Ed Avery - whose character changes out of all recognition when he starts abusing the dosage of cortisone he’s prescribed for a heart complaint. As he becomes more fractious and impatient, we’re shown how the isolation between himself, his family and colleagues starts to widen and the good will begin to erode.

Mason is perfectly suited to this role, of course. Adept at switching from a charming and erudite personality to someone very dark and threatening, he brings a degree of realism to the character that few could have matched.

He’s ably supported by Barbara Rush as his long-suffering wife. I know her mainly from monster movies and Magnificent Obsession and here she shows an impressive range, going from a simple and uncomplicated mother to someone angry, frightened but still strong as she battles to keep her family together.

The bright ‘Deluxe Color’ photography provides a great visual accompaniment to the drama, with heavy black shadows creeping into the frame as things start to unravel. Ed’s transformation from caring family man to unfeeling monster’s completely believable and makes you feel desperate and tense as his life starts coming apart.

The ending may be extremely brief and a little pat, and the repercussions unexplored, but Mason’s performance is more than enough to recommend this unusual and gripping drama.

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