Bigger Than Life (1956)

95 or 101 mins | Drama | August 1956

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HISTORY

The working title of this picture was One in a Million . The Var review misspells actor Renny McEvoy's name as "Henry." According to HR , The New Yorker story on which the film was based was written from the actual case history of a Long Island schoolteacher. According to a Jul 1956 Newsweek article, the pharmaceutical company that produced cortisone, the drug featured in the film, expressed consternation over the possible effect of the picture on the public. The same article quoted a chemist declaring that Berton Roueché's article was "a reasonably fair approximation of the situation which existed at the time [1948] when cortisone was first marketed."
       By the time of the film's release, new formulations had cut down the required dosages, eliminating many of the dangerous side effects that occurred in 1948. Portland Mason, who played "Nancy" in the film, was James Mason's daughter. Bigger Than Life marked Barbara Rush's first starring vehicle for Twentieth Century-Fox. A modern source adds that director Nicholas Ray hired British film critic Gavin Lambert to consult with him on the story. Other modern sources add that playwright Clifford Odets worked with Ray on the story. ... More Less

The working title of this picture was One in a Million . The Var review misspells actor Renny McEvoy's name as "Henry." According to HR , The New Yorker story on which the film was based was written from the actual case history of a Long Island schoolteacher. According to a Jul 1956 Newsweek article, the pharmaceutical company that produced cortisone, the drug featured in the film, expressed consternation over the possible effect of the picture on the public. The same article quoted a chemist declaring that Berton Roueché's article was "a reasonably fair approximation of the situation which existed at the time [1948] when cortisone was first marketed."
       By the time of the film's release, new formulations had cut down the required dosages, eliminating many of the dangerous side effects that occurred in 1948. Portland Mason, who played "Nancy" in the film, was James Mason's daughter. Bigger Than Life marked Barbara Rush's first starring vehicle for Twentieth Century-Fox. A modern source adds that director Nicholas Ray hired British film critic Gavin Lambert to consult with him on the story. Other modern sources add that playwright Clifford Odets worked with Ray on the story. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 Sep 1956.
---
Daily Variety
3 Aug 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
3 Aug 56
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 56
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 56
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 56
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Aug 56
p. 17.
New York Times
3 Aug 56
p. 11.
Newsweek
23 Jul 1956.
---
Variety
15 Aug 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Story and scr
Story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Exec ward des
Cost des
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair styles
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the article "Ten Feet Tall" by Berton Roueché in The New Yorker (10 Sep 1955).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
One in a Million
Release Date:
August 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 2 August 1956
Production Date:
late April--late May 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
2 August 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7097
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
lenses by Bausch & Lomb
Duration(in mins):
95 or 101
Length(in feet):
9,132
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Schoolteacher Ed Avery is a devoted family man who moonlights as a cab dispatcher to support his wife Lou and young son Richie. When Ed begins to experience excruciating pains pulsing throughout his body, he tries to hide his condition from Lou until one night, after a bridge game, he collapses in agony. Upon learning that Ed has been enduring these spasms for months, his physician, Dr. Norton, calls in a specialist, Dr. Ruric, who puts Ed through a battery of tests that reveal that he is afflicted with a rare, deadly blood disease. When Ruric concludes that Ed's only hope lies in taking the experimental drug cortisone, Ed begins treatment under hospital supervision. Several weeks later, Ed is released from the hospital, and Norton cautions him that his drug dosage needs to be closely monitored and that he should immediately report any unusual symptoms. On his first day home, Ed ebulliently ushers Lou to an expensive dress store and insists that she purchase two frocks they can ill afford. When Ed begins to experience drastic mood swings that veer from manic depression to delusions of grandiosity, Lou suggests that he consult Norton, but he protests that he cannot afford to be sick again and begins to increase his dosage of cortisone. At a PTA meeting, Ed deliberately insults both the parents and their children, causing his good friend, gym teacher Wally Gibbs, to become concerned. When Wally visits Lou to tell her about her husband's strange behavior, Ed makes a snide remark about Wally's interest in Lou, then declares that he is tired of petty domesticity and his marriage. After ... +


Schoolteacher Ed Avery is a devoted family man who moonlights as a cab dispatcher to support his wife Lou and young son Richie. When Ed begins to experience excruciating pains pulsing throughout his body, he tries to hide his condition from Lou until one night, after a bridge game, he collapses in agony. Upon learning that Ed has been enduring these spasms for months, his physician, Dr. Norton, calls in a specialist, Dr. Ruric, who puts Ed through a battery of tests that reveal that he is afflicted with a rare, deadly blood disease. When Ruric concludes that Ed's only hope lies in taking the experimental drug cortisone, Ed begins treatment under hospital supervision. Several weeks later, Ed is released from the hospital, and Norton cautions him that his drug dosage needs to be closely monitored and that he should immediately report any unusual symptoms. On his first day home, Ed ebulliently ushers Lou to an expensive dress store and insists that she purchase two frocks they can ill afford. When Ed begins to experience drastic mood swings that veer from manic depression to delusions of grandiosity, Lou suggests that he consult Norton, but he protests that he cannot afford to be sick again and begins to increase his dosage of cortisone. At a PTA meeting, Ed deliberately insults both the parents and their children, causing his good friend, gym teacher Wally Gibbs, to become concerned. When Wally visits Lou to tell her about her husband's strange behavior, Ed makes a snide remark about Wally's interest in Lou, then declares that he is tired of petty domesticity and his marriage. After telling Lou that she is his intellectual inferior, Ed relents and agrees to stay married for the sake of his son. Having consumed his entire prescription of cortisone, Ed poses as a doctor and forges a new prescription at a drug store. While playing football with Richie, Ed pushes the boy beyond his endurance, frightening Lou. Soon after, Wally shows Lou an article describing psychosis as a complication of cortisone consumption, but Lou fears that Ed will die without the drug. As Ed's condition deteriorates, he continues to torment Richie, browbeating him about mathematical problems late into the night and driving him to tears. At dinner, Ed launches into a paranoid rant against Lou. Desperate to stop his father from taking more pills, Richie raids the medicine cabinet, but Ed catches him and calls him a thief. As Richie cowers in his bedroom, Lou phones Wally for help, but is forced to leave a message because he is not at home. Decreeing that Richie considers himself above the law, Ed reads a passage in the Bible about Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. When Lou begs Ed to spare Richie, he declares that they will all die together. After Lou tries to stall Ed, he locks her in a closet, turns up the volume on the television set and then charges up the stairs to Richie's room, scissors in hand. When Ed begins to hallucinate, Richie slips out the door just as Wally bursts into the house and wrests the scissors from Ed's hands. After Wally knocks Ed unconscious, Lou phones the doctor, who heavily sedates Ed in the hospital. Explaining that Ed is suffering from a psychosis induced by an overdose of cortisone, Norton warns that he may never return to normal. After stating that Ed will recover only if he remembers what has happened, Norton agrees to allow Lou to see her husband. In his hospital room, Ed awakens, disoriented, but soon recognizes Lou and Richie, and recalling the disastrous events of recent weeks, gratefully embraces his family. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.