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Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners
Posted May 17, 2011 to photo album "Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners"
Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
Bigger Than Life (1956)
A year after Rebel without Cause, Nicholas Ray revisited the theme of father/son relations from a different direction in Bigger Than Life. Based on a 1955 New Yorker article ‘Ten Feet Tall” by Berton Roueché about the devastating psychological side effects of the drug cortisone, Bigger than Life transformed the true-life medical case study into a more expansive melodrama about American post-war values. In the film, James Mason (who also produced the film) plays Ed Avery, an elementary school teacher living in an unnamed suburban town with his wife Lou (Barbara Rush) and their son, Richie (Christopher Olsen). Avery, who’s working two jobs in the impossible pursuit of trying to give his family everything the post-war American dream imagines they need, ultimately collapses from exhaustion and his doctors prescribe a new miracle drug called cortisone. While Avery recovers, the drug slowly changes Avery’s mental state, transforming the easy-going educator into an aggressive egomaniac father who begins to demand an inhumane perfection from his son. The insanity reaches a fever pitch when Avery seeks to literally sacrifice his own son over the pleas of his wife, who reminds him “But God stopped Abraham.” Avery chilling response is simply “God was wrong.” In the end, Avery is stopped, re-medicated and returned to the lovely dad he once was. Nicholas Ray, who was hired to direct, attempted to open up the original screenplay by bringing in Clifford Odets to expand on Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum’s screenplay. But it was Ray’s use of cinemascope framing and expressive lighting that really pushed this tale of medical malfeasance into a torturous tale of fatherhood run amok.