Essential Cinema: Two by Nicholas Ray

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Even if you think you don't know who Nicholas Ray is, you know who Nicholas Ray is. Does Rebel Without a Cause ring a bell? James Dean wearing a fire engine red jacket and a look as smoldering as the cigarette he's holding is one of the true iconic images of movie history. Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo are alienated teens struggling to make sense of life, and a very young Dennis Hopper plays a jack-booted thug. If you've never seen this movie on the big screen in all of it CinemaScope glory, you owe it to yourself to head over to the Siskel.

But what's even more exciting is that it's on a double bill with one of the great "lost" works of Nicholas Ray. Bigger Than Life stars James Mason as a mild-mannered family man and schoolteacher who is diagnosed with heart disease. He undergoes an experimental treatment using cortisone. The drug works like a miracle ... but there are disturbing side effects. Soon he begins to experience delusions of grandeur and semi-psychotic behavior towards his family. Much like Rod Serling would later do with The Twilight Zone, Ray uses Mason's insanity as a clever cover for a full-bore critique of 50's conformity, family values, and materialism. Bigger Than Life has never been released on video and has rarely been revived in the past, but after a smashing run at the Film Forum in NYC it comes to the Siskel in a brand new print.

Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life run February 27-- March 5. If you buy a ticket at regular price to either one you can get a ticket to any performance of the other film at the discount rate.

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