Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cahiers du Cinema

I'm surfing through the program listings grid on Xfinity (neé Comcast) when I run across a 1956 movie called "Bigger Than Life" about a guy (played by James Mason) who is transformed into a monster by an experimental drug. I figure It's gotta be a campy fifties horror movie, so -- with no Republican Presidential Debates or reruns of Tiny Tim on the Tonight Show available for comic relief -- I opt for the movie.
Well, it turns out that Mason isn't transformed into some sort of malevolent leviathan after all, but into – are you ready? – a Conservative!
As his horrified, but devoted, wife and his equally horrified, but feisty, kid look on, the mild-mannered schoolteacher turns into an Ayn Rand ubermensch on steroids, an authoritarian nut job demanding complete subservience to his whims while going around raving about individual responsibility, obedience, tradition and family (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just his attitude).
Things begin to get really nasty when he hallucinates that he is Abraham and his son is Isaac. The O.T.-hip among us realize immediately where this is going and emit a collective uh-oh.
As Pop staggers around with a pair of lethal-looking scissors in hand, Mom tries to mollify him (just before he locks her in the hall closet) by arguing that "God saved Isaac", but the drug-addled fiend declaims stentoriously: GOD WAS WRONG!, a line that only James Mason, Satan (or possibly Raymond Massey) could possibly have gotten away with.
Regrettably, the movie then turns from upscale melodrama into mawkish predictability as director Nick Ray tries to wring an unconvincing happy ending out of the proceedings, but Mason fans will not be unrewarded by tuning in.

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