Bigger Than Life

Bigger Than Life

James Mason
Director: Nicholas Ray Cast: James Mason
James Mason
, Barbara Rush
Barbara Rush
, Walter Matthau
Walter Matthau
Nicholas Ray


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Based on an article in the New Yorker, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life stars James Mason (who also produced the film) as elementary school teacher Ed Avery, a thoughtful, gentle man, with a loving wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and a young son, Richie (Christopher Olsen), who loves him. Avery is successful and well liked in his community, but he is over-extended in his pursuit of the American dream -- he secretly works a second job to earn extra money, and doesn't dare break stride, despite the increasingly painful physical spasms that he suffers. He collapses one day, and the doctors inform him that he suffers from an arterial disease that will probably give him less than a year to live. But they also offer him one hope, with treatment using cortisone, which was then a new, not-fully-tested drug. Avery makes a seemingly full recovery and returns to work, but it soon becomes clear that he's not the same -- he has a new, cavalier attitude toward money, and then Lou becomes alarmed over his expressions of rage over seemingly insignificant annoyances. He starts expressing himself in grand, exalted terms, first to Lou and then to his colleagues at school, including his closest friend, Wally Gibbs (Walter Matthau). And matters only get worse when Wally determines that it is the cortisone -- which Ed has been taking in far greater doses than prescribed -- that is making him act this way. And his obsession w ith forcing Richie to live up to his full potential soon turns into a much darker fixation. Director Ray later offered regret over having used cortisone by name, as it was still not standard treatment and its benefits and drawbacks weren't known. But this did lend the movie a verisimilitude that was essential for what appeal it did hold for audiences. (Seven years later, screenwriter William Read Woodfield would incorporate Bigger Than Life's cortisone plot device into his script for the Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea episode \Mutiny\. Bigger Than Life's more immediate problem at the time lay in its broader plot -- with a story that brought drug addiction and fact-based psychological unhingement into a suburban American setting, it was a daring subject for its time, for which audiences were unprepared in 1956. It was also one of a group of offbeat pictures that Mason produced as well as starred in.

Product Details

Release Date: 03/23/2010
UPC: 0715515054713
Original Release: 1956
Source: Criterion Collection
Region Code: A
Sound: [Dolby Digital Mono]
Time: 1:35:00
Sales rank: 14,608

Special Features

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

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
James Mason Ed Avery
Barbara Rush Mrs. Lou Avery
Walter Matthau Wally Gibbs
Robert Simon Dr. Norton
Christopher Olsen Richie Avery
Roland Winters Dr. Rurich
Rusty Lane La Porte
Rachel Stephens Nurse
Kipp Hamilton Pat Wade
Betty Caulfield Mrs. La Porte
Virginia Carroll Mrs. Jones
Renny McEvoy Mr. Jones
Billy Jones Mr. Byron
Lee Aaker Joe
Jerry Mathers Freddie
Portland Mason Nancy
Natalie Masters Mrs Tyndal
Richard Collier Milkman
Lewis Charles Dr MacLennan
Gus Schilling Druggist
Alex Frazer Clergyman
Mary Carver Saleslady
Eugenia Paul Saleslady
Nan Dolan Dr. Norton's Nurse
William Schallert Pharmacist

Technical Credits
Nicholas Ray Director
Eli Dunn Asst. Director
W.D. Flick Sound/Sound Designer
Cyril Hume Original Story,Screenwriter
Charles LeMaire Costumes/Costume Designer
Harry M. Leonard Sound/Sound Designer
Louis Loeffler Editor
Joe MacDonald Cinematographer
Richard Maibaum Original Story,Screenwriter
James Mason Producer
Ben Nye Makeup
David Raksin Score Composer
Stuart A. Reiss Set Decoration/Design
Walter Scott Set Decoration/Design
Jack Martin Smith Art Director
Lyle Wheeler Art Director
Mary Wills Costumes/Costume Designer

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