Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Want a New Drug

Hollywood has a way of making everything seem more glamorous than it really is. I watched Bigger Than Life on the Fox Movie Channel today, and couldn't help laughing through the whole thing. James Mason stars as a schoolteacher who develops a rare illness -- inflammation of the arteries. The only treatment is the new wonder drug, cortisone. Unfortunately, Mason becomes addicted to the cortisone, displaying constant manic, if not psychotic, tendencies. I suppose it gives a whole new meaning to "roid rage", though. The sad thing is that the movie is trying to be serious, much like Less Than Zero.

It's not the only time Hollywood has had a humorous portrayal of drug abuse. Many of them, like Reefer Madness, are not intended to be funny, but when it comes to alcohol, there's generally a lot more deliberate comedy. Just think of The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy drinking their way through a murder investigation. There's also the movie it inspired, Remember Last Night?, in which the characters get even drunker than in The Thin Man. And who could overlook the entire oeuvre of W.C. Fields?

Of course, there are some movies that do take drug addiction seriously, and as far as I can tell do a pretty good job of it. (Thankfully, I have never been addicted to any drug, and have never been close to anybody I know to be an addict, so I don't have much reference here.) The Lost Weekend is pretty damn grim, and by all accounts Hollywood knew this wasn't a typical film for them. Frank Sinatra is pretty good as a heroin addict in The Man With the Golden Arm, although I wonder just how realistic it really is.

And then there are the addicts who are roués, knowing fully well that they're addicts and perfectly willing to die of their addiction. Perhaps the classic might be that of Van Heflin, who played the cynical alcoholic sidekick in Johnny Eager, and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for it.

Sadly, most of today's recommendations aren't available on DVD in the US. Bigger Than Life has been released in Europe, however.

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