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Always a big screen treat, Nicholas Ray’s Technicolor, CinemaScope Bigger Than Life is hitting International House Philadelphia in a newly restored print on July 7. One of the greatest and most disturbing Hollywood domestic melodramas of the fifties, it stars the peerless James Mason as an elementary school teacher and seemingly happy family man who gradually turns into a tyrant after being prescribed cortisone, experimental at the time, for extreme pain. Though based on a real incident as reported in a New Yorker article, Bigger Than Life is hardly a work of reportage—instead Ray uses expressionistic lighting, colors, and framing to give this twisted take on suburbia a richly surreal quality. The visually stunning film can also be caught by viewers in Austin this week, at the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series (July 10–12), in a double feature with another masterpiece of American surreality, The Night of the Hunter.
Watch Bigger Than Life’s original trailer below, in which the film is sensationally summarized in an introduction by Mason himself: “A handful of hope that became a fistful of hell!”