Bigger Than Life
James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau,
One of Nicholas Ray’s least-known films is also acclaimed by many critics as his best, featuring James Mason (who also produced the film) in one of his finest performances. Mason portrays a small-town schoolteacher who moonlights as a taxi driver to supplement his salary. When he begins taking cortisone to ward off the crippling effects of arthritis, his personality takes on a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation. As he becomes increasingly deranged and ineffectual as a husband and father, his sense of failure plays off against delusions of grandeur; he devises grandiose schemes, including one biblically inspired plot to sacrifice his young son. Ray’s use of CinemaScope photography to frame this intense, close-in psychological drama is even more remarkable than in Rebel Without a Cause; what emerges is a powerful and many-layered vision of the pressures of middle-class life turning its uncomprehending victims into monsters.
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