BIGGER THAN LIFE
1956, 20th Century Fox, 95 min, USA, Dir: Nicholas Ray

Director Nicholas Ray’s subversively twisted portrait of suburban life centers on a teacher (James Mason) who becomes addicted to a new drug, cortisone, and experiences visionary, tyrannical delusions. Ray’s superb use of color and shot composition reaches a deliriously surreal intensity here that at times borders on the psychedelic. In addition to one of Mason’s finest performances, there’s also standout work from co-stars Barbara Rush and Walter Matthau.


JOHNNY GUITAR
1954, Republic (Paramount), 110 min, USA, Dir: Nicholas Ray

Joan Crawford is headstrong Vienna, a saloon owner waiting for the railroad to reach her town. Her friendship with charming outlaw the Dancing Kid (Scott Brady) jeopardizes her standing in the local community. Uptight landowners led by jealous Emma (a frightening Mercedes McCambridge) will do anything to repress her yen for the Kid, even if it means lynching half the town to do it. Enter Vienna’s old flame, Johnny (Sterling Hayden), a quick-draw who’s given up guns for a guitar. Only director Nicholas Ray could pull off this color-coded, violent, romantic tall tale rife with allegorical references to the rabid right wing of 1950s America. Victor Young did the lush score, with Peggy Lee singing the torrid theme song. Co-starring Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine.


ON DANGEROUS GROUND
1951, Warner Bros., 82 min, USA, Dir: Nicholas Ray

Violent, embittered metro cop Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) gets sent upstate to cool off and investigate a small-town murder probe. The search leads him to a fateful confrontation with local blind woman Mary (Ida Lupino, magnificent) and his own black heart. Sterling contributions all around: writer A.I. Bezzerides’ savvy script, Ray’s vigorous direction and location shooting, Bernard Herrmann’s alternately brassy and soft score and Ryan’s ferocious performance make this one of the genre’s most affecting statements about anger and alienation in the big city.


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