- Sorry, this item is not available in
- Image not available
- To view this video download Flash Player
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
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 morePublished on June 15, 2013 by Christopher Jones
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 morePublished on March 26, 2013 by Dennis A. Denton
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
THIS SHOULD ABSOSULELY BE THE BEST PICTURE AT THAT TIME. WHY CONTROVERSIAL? BIGGER THAN LIFE IS TRULY A SUCCESS IN FILM MAKING, THE SCENES ABOUT THE MAN BECAME PARANOID AND INSANE... Read morePublished on February 3, 2013 by HAN XIAO
Ed Avery (James Mason) is a typical (though idealized) 1950s husband and father who is facing serious health problem. Read morePublished on May 6, 2012 by Kona
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 morePublished on April 15, 2012 by Dr. Morbius
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 morePublished on May 30, 2010 by echo12
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 morePublished on April 26, 2010 by Jimmy Lee