Bigger Than Life

Moving to 20th Century Fox for this indictment of traditional masculinity in the American home — in addition to the perils of substance abuse under a pearly-white façade of self-improvement—Ray continues to hone his storytelling ability, here focusing explicitly on the crisis of the American Dream. Ed Avery (James Mason), a schoolteacher and father, begins experiencing debilitating pain, and, told he has only months to live, begins an experimental treatment with cortisone. But when his pain diminishes, Avery continues on the cortisone, transitioning to an abuser of the drug, which threatens not only his career but also his family and, ultimately, their safety. “In their intricate imbrications of star text, iconic Americana, and insinuating directorial commentary, [Bigger Than Life and films like it] systematically subverted the reassuring conventions of classical Hollywood.”—Paul Brunick, Film Comment.

Genres: Drama

Other Films by Nicholas Ray

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar

Widely cited as an allegory for the anti-Communist hearings overseen by the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to the Hollywood blacklist of 1955, Johnny Guitar is one of the fiercest Westerns ever made. Vienna (an unforgettable Joan Crawford), a saloon owner in a small Arizona town, walks a fine line between the conservative townsfolk,

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We Can’t Go Home Again

In 1971, Ray, at the invitation of experimental filmmakers Larry Gottheim and Ken Jacobs, took a teaching post at SUNY Binghamton in the fledgling film production department. The major project to come out of the period is this film, an experimental meta-narrative centering on a teacher (Ray) and his students (played by his real-life students),

lightning-over-water

Lightning Over Water

Ray, dying of cancer, fought hard to make this last film, a document of his final days in New York City. Wenders, by then a close friend of Ray’s, comes to New York after being on location shooting a noir in Los Angeles. What follows is Ray, with Wenders’ tender assistance, reminiscing about his life

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King of Kings

King of Kings, Ray’s second film for MGM, is truly his “epic” (featuring narration by Orson Welles!), a lavish historical ensemble drama chronicling the life of Jesus Christ (Jeffrey Hunter), but still very much a Ray film in its intimate focus on individual crises. The film’s main temporal focus is the lead-up to Jesus’ crucifixion,

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Party Girl

A latter-day mob tale made for glamorous MGM—ironic, at that most softboiled of studios—Ray follows the gritty gangster classics of the 1930s by crafting the center of Party Girl’s story on mafia lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor), who has a sterling record defending crooks and murderers. Farrell, in the course of his work for archetypal