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Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray, USA 1956, 95’

Classic 1950s Hollywood films avoided issues of dependency by sticking to safe stories about alcoholism. Nicholas Ray is once again ahead of his time in this bold picture about a teacher whose addiction to cortisone destroys his family and professional life. Bigger Than Life is a psychologically credible tale with excellent dramaturgy offering a shock to 1950s viewers used to sanitized Hollywood schlock. In this study of drug dependency, which was a topical problem at the time, Ray eschews melodrama and, at times, takes the path of expressionistic horror in color aided by the tremendous acting of James Mason.

Nicholas Ray

Nicholas Ray is a Hollywood legend and outsider beloved by French New Wave filmmakers, who saw in him one of the most important auteurs of American cinema. He shone with Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean, and his oeuvre brims with existential and fatalistic noir films (In a Lonely Place, They Live by Night), Western variations (Johnny Guitar, The True Story of Jesse James), bold social commentary (Knock at Any Door, Bigger than Life), war movies (the great Bitter Victory), and even high budget biblical cinema (King of Kings). He stopped directing regularly in the 1960s, but would return with unusual films such as his avant-garde take on America in We Can’t Go Home Again or the mockumentary Lightning over Water made (on his deathbed) with Wim Wenders.

Filmography

1948 Żyją nocą / They Live by Night

1949 Pukać do każdych drzwi / Knock on Any Door

1950 Pustka / In a Lonely Place

1952 Nieokiełznani / The Lusty Men

1954 Johnny Guitar

1955 Buntownik bez powodu / Rebel without a Cause

1956 Ponad życie / Bigger than Life

1957 Prawdziwa historia Jesse Jamesa / The True Story of Jesse James

1957 Gorzkie zwycięstwo / Bitter Victory

1961 Król królów / King of Kings

1976 We Can’t Go Home Again

1980 Film Nicka / Lightning over Water

Cast & Crew

director Nicholas Ray
screenplay James Mason, Cyril Hume
cinematography Joseph MacDonald
editing Louis R. Loeffler
music David Raksin
sound W.D. Flick, Harry M. Leonard
cast James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau
producer James Mason
production Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
sales Hollywood Classics
source of print British Film Institute
language english
coloration colour
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