Father’s Little Helper

For a self-described character actor, James Mason played a central role in an impressive number of great films — Odd Man Out, 5 Fingers, A Star Is Born, North by Northwest, Lolita. He was the epitome of dapper, cultured menace, but he could also evoke, and expose, the fury roiling under a placid surface. In Nicholas Ray’s domestic melodrama Bigger Than Life (1956), Mason stars as a decent but seriously ill teacher who transforms into a bully and a brute under the influence of the steroid cortisone. As the actor recounts in the trailer, this is the socially conscious story of “a handful of hope that became a fistful of hell” and ripped one perfect American family asunder. Martin Scorsese has a copy of Bigger Than Life in his personal collection of pivotal postwar films, not least because it represents the fortuitous collision of two disparate personalities, the dignified James Mason and the tormented force of nature that was director Nick Ray.
Thu., Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 13, 2 p.m., 2009

 
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