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Bigger Than Life (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1956)

James Mason , Barbara Rush , Nicholas Ray  |  Unrated |  Blu-ray
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

List Price: $39.95
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Product Details

  • Actors: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau
  • Directors: Nicholas Ray
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Color, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 23, 2010
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003152YVO
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,889 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Bigger Than Life (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]" on IMDb

Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Audio commentary featuring critic Geoff Andrew
Profile of Nicholas Ray (1977), a half-hour television interview
New video appreciation of Bigger Than Life
New video interview with Susan Ray
Theatrical trailer
An essay by film writer B. Kite

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Though ignored at the time of its release, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life is now recognized as one of the great American films of the 1950s. When a friendly, successful suburban teacher and father (James Mason, in one of his most indelible roles) is prescribed cortisone for a painful, possibly fatal affliction, he grows dangerously addicted to the experimental drug, resulting in his transformation into a psychotic and ultimately violent household despot. This Eisenhower-era throat-grabber, shot in expressive CinemaScope, is an excoriating take on the nuclear family; that it came in the day of Father Knows Best makes it all the more shocking—and wildly entertaining.

Stills from Bigger Than Life

Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life is a great American film long esteemed overseas but little known in its own land. That should change with this addition to the Criterion Collection--the film's first-ever U.S. video release, and a paradigm of what Criterion exists to do. James Mason (who also produced the picture) is wonderfully subtle in an unlikely role, a Middle American schoolteacher named Ed Avery who's afflicted with a rare inflammation of the arteries. Only experimental hormone treatment can save the man from increasing pain and early death--but misuse of the drug leads to a darkening and distortion of his gentle personality and a nightmare situation for his family. Bigger Than Life isn't a cautionary lesson in the perils of "miracle drugs," even if its genesis was a New Yorker article about a real-life case of cortisone abuse. Instead, consider the film as an adult, flip-side variant of Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (made the year before): an EKG of the American middle class in the Eisenhower era. The medical issues on the surface pale beside, in Jonathan Lethem's phrase, "the anxieties just under the skin of the film"--the personal, cultural, and socio-economic dilemmas that mostly remain unspoken, and unanswerable.

The picture is a landmark in the evolution of CinemaScope. Ray was among the first directors to explore the possibilities the wide screen held for psychological and emotional expressiveness (as opposed to mere pictorialism and spectacle), and he uses it brilliantly even though most of the film transpires within a middle-class home. The house is cunningly designed and visualized to seem commonplace, and probably '50s audiences in America registered it that way--just another glance at their everyday reality--while foreign audiences saw lucid and powerful abstraction. Ray invests every sector with dynamic potentiality and meaning, including the acre of thicket and scrub out back that realistically shouldn't be there a stone's throw from the Averys' picture-perfect suburban street. Add the director's bold use of color to underscore the disquiet and intensify the emotional environment, and we have an exemplary modern film. This comes through all the more strongly on the DVD and especially in Blu-ray; the home screen enhances both the abstraction and the specificity of Ray's vision. In the meticulous digital restoration of the original camera negative, the colors are more crisply and definitively there than in any shopworn repertory print or standard TV broadcast. --Richard T. Jameson

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Nick Ray's essential masterpieces of cinema December 22, 2009
Talk about a film ahead of its time, Nicholas Ray's 1956 drama Bigger than Life tanked upon release in the US most likely because of its dark, brooding and unflinching observations on suburban life (the film is partially based on Ray's own childhood, if I'm recalling correctly.); people back then didn't want to be told about the monster next door, and to a lesser extent people today still don't want this, but Ray's film is so perfect in every respect that one can't look away from the screen for a moment.

Ray, like Fuller, unfortunately was, more or less, wholly ignored in the US during his life but was immensely popular with the Cahiers kids and I'm glad to see that in the past decade or so his films, besides the popular Rebel Without a Cause, are getting some serious reevaluations.
Here's the details, for those interested, in regards to the Criterion release:

* New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
* Audio commentary featuring critic Geoff Andrew (The Films of Nicholas Ray)
* Profile of Nicholas Ray (1977), a half-hour television interview with the director
* New video appreciation of Bigger Than Life with author Jonathan Lethem (Chronic City)
* New video interview with Susan Ray, widow of the director and editor of I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies
* Theatrical trailer
* PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic and video maker B. Kite
Here is to hoping that they get their hands on Johnny Guitar.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NICHOLAS RAY, OPUS 13 March 30, 2008
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
***** 1956. Directed by Nicholas Ray. A teacher, suffering from a rare and painful disease, accepts to take cortisone, a new drug in the 50's, under medical surveillance. Unfortunately, the patient modifies his prescriptions and becomes little by little psychotic. This undisputable masterpiece presents in 95 minutes all the major Nicholas Ray themes: an idealistic hero who can't accept his average destiny, the bitter study of the American way of life and a smart use of the new Technicolor technology, with its new space offered to the directors, to name a few. Some scenes, like the scenes with the mirrors, are already part of Movie History. You can now buy a zone 2 DVD of BIGGER THAN LIFE at with a perfect copy of the film and very interesting featurettes about the themes handled by Nicholas Ray in this film. A DVD zone your library.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Nicholas Ray has long been one of the most underrated directors. He may have been recognized and respected for his groundbreaking Rebel Without A Cause, but his much of his output was long ignored by mainstream audiences and critics alike. The tide has recently been shifting and Ray's other output has begun to receive the recognition it deserves. Bigger than Life is Ray's 1956 effort concerning mental illness, drug use, and the 1950's family structure.

Bigger than Life tells the tale of Ed Avery, a good-natured school teacher who in the hard 50's is juggling an additional job at a Taxi company to provide for his family. As the pressure of everyday life and these two jobs mount up, he notices certain bouts of pain and even a few blackouts. Dismissing these episodes, it later becomes obvious to him and his family that he is unable to keep up with daily life in such a way. A specialist tells him that he has a very rare inflammation of the arteries; a condition that would grant him only a short few months to live. The only way of combating this disease is a new experimental steroid hormone called Cortisone. This abuse of this drug which Ed must take for the rest of his livelihood in has extremely adverse effects such as Psychosis, a condition with symptoms such as hallucinations and impaired judgment.

Ray's treatment of Ed's abuse of Cortisone is simply jaw-dropping. The audience continually waits and waits for a violent outburst, an outburst that literally tears the family apart-but it doesn't happen. Ray could have easily taken this condition and created a violent and physically abusive monster, but he keeps Ray controlled. On the surface, besides his little conspiracy and new-found ideologies Ed does not seem to be effected in a major way by the drug.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Rebel Without a Cause. March 28, 2010
Coming out only a year after its infinitely more famous predecessor, "Bigger Than Life" is the film that truly blistered the veneer of 1950s domestic bliss -- unsparingly exposing the demons that lurk beneath "the good life". It's nominally about prescription drug abuse, but it's really about emotional abuse and the disintegration of a family. I love "Rebel Without a Cause", but it only touches on issues that are ripped wide open here.

James Mason gives the performance of his career as a high school teacher who finds himself at the mercy of the new miracle drug Cortisone. Once he begins dosage, we slowly watch his personality change, from overbearing euphoria, to manic depression, paranoia, and then ultimately dementia and psychosis. The title refers to him eventually perceiving himself as bigger than life itself, becoming truly delusional and dangerous.

But as I mentioned, this is a powerful film that touches on a lot more subjects than simply drug abuse. If you grew up with any parental issues in your life, as many of us have, this will be a difficult but cathartic experience. Nicholas Ray, in my mind, is now undoubtedly the greatest American director who was working in the 1950s. This might be the very best film of that decade.

As for the Criterion disc, it looks fabulous. However, it also contains a 1970s sit-down interview with Mr. Ray which might be conducted by the most obnoxious, self-absorbed critic imaginable. Proceed at your own risk. Fortunately, the commentary track is the very opposite -- recorded by a highly knowledgeable but unpretentious British "film scholar". Also, I think the graphic design and type treatment of the packaging is ridiculously overdone; a gigantic "Bigger" and "Life" mixed with a retro Duncan Hines "than" sandwiched between. Just let the film speak for itself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional 50's Moviemaking/Superb cast, director
This unusual drama, directed by Nicholas Ray ('Rebel Without A Cause, Johnny Guitar, etc), does what the film adaptation of 'Revolutionary Road' did some 60 years later: it uses... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Christopher Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterion_Bigger Than Life
As a mature person, I appreciate many of the older movies, and this movie has a lot to appreciate. James Mason, Barbara Rush and Walter Matthau were simply great in executing... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dennis A. Denton
5.0 out of 5 stars the sweetest golly gosh darn 180 I've seen on celluloid

What a ride,The movie starts as quaint as humanly possible. By the end you've got yourself a new grip on fifties paranoia. Plus James Mason goes bonkers. Read more
Published 19 months ago by ab dylans
5.0 out of 5 stars WHY CONTROVERSIAL?
Published 20 months ago by HAN XIAO
4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and Exciting Up Until The Last 5 Minutes!
Bigger Than Life is a story about Ed Avery, who develops a stomach condition and must take the new drug cortisone in order to save his life. The effect is immediately positive. Read more
Published on August 20, 2012 by John
5.0 out of 5 stars The horror of drug abuse
Ed Avery (James Mason) is a typical (though idealized) 1950s husband and father who is facing serious health problem. Read more
Published on May 6, 2012 by Kona
5.0 out of 5 stars Banister-busting thrills while the calliope plays on....
Outstanding 2:55 OAR technicolor print of one of the greatest films ever by the greatest director ever. This film flopped at the box just like Citizen Kane, but that means nothing. Read more
Published on April 15, 2012 by Dr. Morbius
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best
bigger than life on bluray. wow! i have waited along time for this. an atypical look into the perfect 50s family, with nick ray directing, and james mason staring and producing. Read more
Published on May 30, 2010 by echo12
5.0 out of 5 stars Blu Ray Review: Ah yes, the good old age of strong nuclear family
Once again, the Criterion Collection retains it's prestigious status in delivering quality films to people who truly appreciate the art of cinema, or in this case, cinemascope. Read more
Published on April 26, 2010 by Jimmy Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars The Seedy Underbelly of the 1950's Perfect Family Revealed
This was the 1950's American Beauty. Need I say more? The "Father Knows Best" / "Leave it to Beaver" 1950's family is broken down by drug addiction... Read more
Published on April 12, 2010 by Bryan R. Olson
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