Schoolteacher and family man Ed Avery, who’s been suffering bouts of severe pain and even blackouts, is hospitalized with what’s diagnosed as a rare inflammation of the arteries. Told by doctors that he probably has only months to live, Ed agrees to an experimental treatment: doses of the hormone cortisone. Ed makes a remarkable recovery, and returns home to his wife, Lou, and their son, Richie. He must keep taking cortisone tablets regularly to prevent a recurrence of his illness. But the “miracle” cure turns into its own nightmare as Ed starts to abuse the tablets, causing him to experience increasingly wild mood swings.
Though ignored at the time of its release, Nicholas Rays Bigger Than Life is now recognized as one of the great American films of the 1950s. When a friendly, successful suburban teacher and father (James Mason, in one of his most indelible roles) is prescribed cortisone for a painful, possibly fatal affliction, he grows dangerously addicted to the experimental drug, resulting in his transformation into a psychotic and ultimately violent household despot. This Eisenhower-era throat-grabber, shot in expressive CinemaScope, is an excoriating take on the nuclear family. That it came in the day of Father Knows Best makes it all the more shockingand wildly entertaining. [http://www.criterion.com/films/1929-bigger-than-life]