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Bigger Than Life [1956] [DVD]

Price: £7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Product details

  • Actors: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau, Robert F. Simon, Christopher Olsen
  • Directors: Nicholas Ray
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: BFI
  • DVD Release Date: 30 July 2007
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,253 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Product Description

A Film by Nicholas Ray

Bigger Than Life is one of the greatest American films of the 1950s, a high point in the careers of lead actor James Mason and Nicholas Ray.

Mason gives a towering performance as Ed Avery, a happily married schoolteacher who agrees to take a new miracle drug when diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. It is not long before the drug begins producing malevolent and murderous side-effects that bring to the fore all of Ed's long-repressed frustrations with his life.

Mason's support is exceptional: Barbara Rush as Ed's devoted wife, Christopher Olsen as his cruelly punished son and Walter Matthau as his faithful colleague.

One of cinema's most persuasive portraits of psychological turmoil, the film also succeeds magnificently as searing melodrama and subversive social critique, with Ray, his scriptwriters and cinematographer achieving a perfect balance between emotional realism and expressionist allegory.

DVD Extras

  • Full-feature commentary by Edward Buscombe
  • New filmed conversation between Jim Jarmusch and Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • Extracts from 1969 interview with Nicholas Ray
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Fully illustrated booklet with essays by Geoff Andrews, Jeanine Basinger, Susan Ray, and biographies

USA | 1956 | colour | English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | 91 minutes | Ratio 2.35:1 (16x9) anamorphic | Region 2 DVD


'An outstanding movie, remarkable for its seriousness and daring.' --The Guardian

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Willsmer HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 23 Aug 2007
Format: DVD
Bigger Than Life happily tears down all the 1950s values it starts off celebrating, making even fewer friends on its original release than Fight Club did among the remnants of the Moral Majority. If producer and star James Mason isn't exactly credible as an All-American teacher and, briefly, one-time college football star, he's a lot more credible as a mild-mannered schoolteacher turned egomaniac psychotic as his over-medication on the Cortisone that keeps him alive has disastrous effects on his nuclear family: there aren't many actors who could pull off a scene that sees him with a pair of scissors in one hand and a Bible in the other reading the story of Abraham and Isaac as a parenting guide. And there aren't many directors who would have dared in the ultra-conservative 1950s to use the Bible not as a source of peace but of torment as it becomes clear that he intends to go through with God's command to Abraham - and, when reminded that God spared Isaac, would have the balls to have his `hero' reply "God was wrong!"

Nicholas Ray's use of CinemaScope (a format Mason despised but which was forced on him by the studio) is exemplary and unfussy, as is his use of light and camera angles - as Mason's ego expands, he is shot from lower angles, while even his shadow towers over those of the rest of his family in the same room. There's also a beautifully staged scene as a still gentle Mason follows his wife through the house turning out the lights in amorous pursuit, oblivious to her suspicions that he's having an affair - not to mention a great lecture on moral values at a PTA meeting as Mason offers his new near-Nazi theory of education. Great stuff and great to see it here in its original CinemaScope ratio.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Nobody VINE VOICE on 3 Sep 2007
Format: DVD
"Bigger Than Life" is a suburban melodrama directed by Nicholas Ray, the director of other 50s classics like "In A Lonely Place"(1950) and "Rebel Without A Cause" (1955). The film is based on an article in the The New Yorker, "Ten Feet Tall" by Berton Roueche, about the effects of wonder-drug Cortisone which when misused can result in mood swings, personalities changes and psychosis.
One of the side-effects of Cortisone is that it causes a feeling of euphoria which can be addictive as in the case of Ed Avery, performed brilliantly by James Mason. Ed Avery is a model of middle-class suburbia, a school teacher with a wife and son and on the the surface they appear to be happy. The drugs effects release him from this vision of marital bliss, the American dream of the nuclear family and in the process he becomes a tyrant.

Like "Rebel Without A Cause" it sets out to undermine what is regarded as suitable 50s morality. Nicholas Ray along with Douglas Sirk were masters at handling this sort of material and with this film Ray utilises wonderfully expressionistic lighting, cinemascope and gorgeous colour to achieve his objective. This somewhat rare film which was a failure upon it's release is highly recommended.

Jean-Luc Godard in 1963 placed this film in the top 10 American sound pictures up to that point.


James Mason (Odd Man Out,1947; A Star is Born,1954)
Barbara Rush (When Worlds Collide,1951; It Came From Outer Space;1953)
Walter Matthau (A Face in the Crowd;1957)
Christopher Olsen


Joe McDonald (My Darling Clementine,1946; Niagara,1952; How to Marry a Millionaire,1953)

The BFI DVD transfer is excellent.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Abe Raman on 4 April 2008
Format: DVD
This DVD is extremely well produced, with a crisp, sharp picture, faultless sound and careful subtitling. The original cinematic trailer is included, as is an interesting 25min discussion between two American film critics, who make some good points about the film without being too irritating.

Very highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Spike Owen TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Mar 2011
Format: DVD
Bigger Than Life is directed by Nicholas Ray and stars James Mason (who also co-wrote and produced the film), Barbara Rush & Walter Matthau. It's about a school teacher and family man whose life spins out of control after he is diagnosed with a serious life threatening illness that leads to him becoming addicted to cortisone.

A box office flop on release, the film was considered controversial with its attack on the nuclear family residing in conformist suburbia. Yet today many modern day critics, coupled with high praise dealt by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard & François Truffaut, has given the film a new lease of life. So much so it's considered by some to be an ahead of its time masterpiece. While I personally think that masterpiece is a bit too strong a statement, there is no denying that Ray's movie is a potent piece of work backed up by yet another magnificent turn from James Mason.

Excellently adapted by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum from a New Yorker article written by Berton Roueché, the film is also technically smart. Shot in Cinemascope, Ray & cinematographer Joseph MacDonald brilliantly use bold colours and expressionistic shadows around the domestic home to convey atmosphere and meaning. But it's with the story, and its subsequent interpretations that Bigger Than Life soars high on the interest scale. There's many musings on it available at the click of a mouse, from critics prepared to go deep with it, to a thought process delivered by the genius that was Truffaut himself. They are there if one is inclined to peruse either prior or post viewing of this most intriguing picture.

Me? I have my own thoughts, but that's the point, and the thrill of diving into a film of this type. To form ones own interpretation and to then open up to other perspectives is one of cinemas great little peccadilloes. See this if you can. 7.5/10
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