Bigger Than Life review

Maverick US helmer Nicholas Ray forged this richly allegorical melodrama the year after Rebel Without A Cause. A startling, subversive work, it stars a brooding James Mason as Ed Avery, an overworked suburban schoolteacher who's diagnosed with an incurable inflammation of the arteries. Prescribed the experimental drug cortisone by doctors, the psychological side effects are alarming: scorning "petty domesticity", Ed begins to bully his wife (Barbara Rush) and child (Christopher Olsen) while being gripped by megalomaniac, homicidal impulses.

Making devastating use of bold colours, expressionistic shadows and precise framing, Ray employs any technique available to convey atmosphere and meaning. And while Ed's transformation involves moments of dark, ironic humour, Mason takes pains to impress Ed's profound torment and terrible rage.

A fearless critique of American life, stripping away the sheen to reveal the stifling conformity, repression and materialism underneath.

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