Bigger Than Life

One of Nicholas Ray's lesser-known films is also acclaimed by many critics as his best, with James Mason (who also produced) in one of his finest performances. Mason portrays a small-town schoolteacher who secretly moonlights at a cab company to supplement his salary. When he begins taking cortisone to ward off the crippling effects of a rare form of arthritis, the side effects of the drug produce a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation: his sense of failure as a breadwinner plays off against delusions of grandeur, and he devises increasingly alarming schemes that threaten not only his livelihood but the very survival of his family. Ray's use of CinemaScope photography to frame this intense, close-in psychological drama is remarkable. 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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