MOVIEmeter
SEE RANK
Up 2,800 this week

Bigger Than Life (1956)

 -  Drama  -  2 August 1956 (USA)
7.6
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.6/10 from 3,829 users  
Reviews: 52 user | 57 critic

A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity.

Director:

Writers:

(story), (story), 5 more credits »
0Check in
0Share...

On Disc

at Amazon

Editors' Spotlight

IMDb Picks: October

IMDb's editors share the movies and TV shows they are excited to see in October.


Related News

Blu-ray, DVD Release: Caught (1949)
| Disc Dish
The Godzilla Particle
| Village Voice
Film Review: ‘Noah’
| Variety - Film News

User Lists

Related lists from IMDb users

a list of 26 titles
created 12 Mar 2011
 
a list of 30 titles
created 20 Dec 2011
 
a list of 25 titles
created 15 Dec 2012
 
a list of 45 titles
created 7 months ago
 
a list of 38 titles
created 2 months ago
 

Related Items


Connect with IMDb


Share this Rating

Title: Bigger Than Life (1956)

Bigger Than Life (1956) on IMDb 7.6/10

Want to share IMDb's rating on your own site? Use the HTML below.

Take The Quiz!

Test your knowledge of Bigger Than Life.
1 nomination. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A commander receives a citation for an attack on Rommel's headquarters, which is actually undeserved as the commander is unfit for his job. On top of that, unbeknownst to him, his wife is having an affair with one of his officers.

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Richard Burton, Curd Jürgens, Ruth Roman
Adventure | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

An Eskimo who has had little contact with white men goes to a trading post where he accidentally kills a missionary and finds himself being pursued by the police.

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Anthony Quinn, Yôko Tani, Carlo Giustini
Action | Biography | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

The last eighteen years in the life of Jesse James, showing his home life in Missouri, his experiences with Quantrill's raiders, his career of banditry with his brother Frank and the ... See full summary »

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  

The most complete, newly restored version of Nicholas Ray's experimental masterpiece embodies the director's practice of filmmaking as a "communal way of life." Ray plays himself in the ... See full summary »

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Richard Bock, Tom Farrell, Danny Fisher
Party Girl (1958)
Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Lawyer Thomas Farrell has made a career defending crooks in trials. He has never realized that there is a downside to his success, until he meets the dancer Vicki Gayle. She makes him ... See full summary »

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Drama | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A strong willed female saloon owner is wrongly suspected of murder and bank robbery by a lynch mob, when she helps a wounded gang member.

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge
Crime | Film-Noir | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

An escaped convict, injured during a robbery, falls in love with the woman who nurses him back to health, but their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva
Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Hard, withdrawn city cop Jim Wilson roughs up one too many suspects and is sent upstate to help investigate the murder of a young girl in the winter countryside. There he meets Mary Malden,... See full summary »

Directors: Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino
Stars: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond
Drama | Film-Noir | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A potentially violent screenwriter is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. But she begins to have doubts...

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy
Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

Christabel fools everyone with her sweet exterior including her cousin Donna and Donna's wealthy fiancée Curtis. The only one who sees through her facade is Nick, a rugged writer who loves ... See full summary »

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Mel Ferrer, Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan
Adventure | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

An ornithologist battles a family of bird poachers in the Florida Everglades.

Directors: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg
Stars: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Chana Eden
Run for Cover (1955)
Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

Odd little Western that gets off to a snappy start when a man (Matt Dow) is mistaken as a train robber. After the town's sheriff shoots the kid he's riding with, Dow clears his name and ... See full summary »

Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: James Cagney, Viveca Lindfors, John Derek
Edit

Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Ed Avery
...
Lou Avery
...
Wally Gibbs
Robert F. Simon ...
Dr. Norton (as Robert Simon)
Christopher Olsen ...
Richie Avery
Roland Winters ...
Dr. Ruric
Rusty Lane ...
Bob LaPorte
Rachel Stephens ...
Nurse
Kipp Hamilton ...
Pat Wade
Edit

Storyline

Schoolteacher and family man Ed Avery, who's been suffering bouts of severe pain and even blackouts, is hospitalized with what's diagnosed as a rare inflammation of the arteries. Told by doctors that he probably has only months to live, Ed agrees to an experimental treatment: doses of the hormone cortisone. Ed makes a remarkable recovery, and returns home to his wife, Lou, and their son, Richie. He must keep taking cortisone tablets regularly to prevent a recurrence of his illness. But the "miracle" cure turns into its own nightmare as Ed starts to abuse the tablets, causing him to experience increasingly wild mood swings. Written by Eugene Kim <genekim@concentric.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A theme so vital... we urge you to bring all your compassion and understanding to it! See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

2 August 1956 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

One in a Million  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

(optical prints) (Westrex Recording System)| (magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Marilyn Monroe, who was friends with Nicholas Ray and shooting Bus Stop (1956) at an adjoining stage at 20th Century Fox, shot a brief cameo as a nurse during a hospital sequence. Her scene was deleted because the studio was afraid that Monroe would use this cameo as the second film she owed under her contract. See more »

Goofs

37 minutes into the movie, Ed is at the bathroom sink and has just replaced the pill bottle in the medicine cabinet. As he closes the cabinet door, the director and the camera are reflected in the mirror. See more »

Quotes

Ed Avery: God was wrong!
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
one of the under-looked classics of the 1950s
30 October 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I don't know much about cortisone, but from seeing Nicholas Ray's film Bigger Than Life I can have to guess that unless there have been some major medical breakthroughs in the 50 years since this came out, it should have a very huge warning label on the bottle. But it isn't really about cortisone, per-say, even as it does make its case convincingly for the times that such new drugs to possibly help save lives become a double-edged sword. The drug could be anything, it's merely a catalyst for character and story to go into completely un-bound turns. The Avery family could, in fact, be a Beaver-Cleaver household of the fifties, where 'father knows best' is often a given and the house is as beautiful and elegant- in its suburban middle-class way- as is the outward appearances of the husband, wife and son. But the same catalyst, for the intents and purposes of the changes in all the characters, is utterly fascinating. I couldn't help but actually care about these people, as their sort of sheltered existence became un-covered like some kind of manhole into some metaphoric sewer that many of us sit in. There is something under the surface, and it's one wrong thing that can make it go awry.

Ed Avary (James Mason) is such a man, who is a school-teacher and cab-driver operator (on the side, keeping from his wife). He starts getting 'episodes', and has to go to the hospital. It's discovered that he has to live with a heart condition for the rest of his life, and only a new experimental drug, cortisone, can help with regular doses. It doesn't take too long though for things to start going south with Ed, and at first it just seems like he's a little more ornery, a little more on edge, but seemingly trying to still be the old Ed. But then there's his new school-teaching system, and the inducing and steadily increasing paranoia lifting the fog for him what his marriage really means. "I'm only staying now for the boy!" he says in a rage at the dinner table. It becomes clear that he's in the psychosis state, in doing too much of the cortisone, and it lifts not only the comfort of this life, but the expectations and ideals of this seemingly calm, perfunctory existence.

There were other pictures around this time being made in Hollywood, within but at the same time under the conventional radars (Sirk comes to mind, though still unseen by me). Bigger Than Life is a great example of this, and Ray and Mason get right to the bones of it in the main chunk of the picture. Early on though its interesting to see how the tranquility is set up, and how the first barbs of bad things to come is sort of shielded over, to seem like it's nothing, like it'll be all OK. But the implications that both director and star raise through what they deliver through the material is staggering. On Ray's side, he accentuates things exceptionally by the deception of appearances; it may be a studio-film, with the usual medium-shots and high-glossy lighting and camera moves, yet there's some room for expression, like the shadow that looms over Avary's son during an ultra-tense study session. His command over the style is shown here as one of his finest and, at times, even understated. Though finally in the climax he goes full-throttle, in a scene of (possible) horror that's given the full subjective treatment.

Mason, meanwhile, is really at the top of his game, and it's extremely terrifying to see not just how far he can go into losing all touch with his own reality, but the reality of the usual in distortion. Even through the cortisone, Mason has this character come off at first as a braggart, but sort of believable at a PTA meeting (Matthau's gym teacher friend finds something fishy though), and then it doesn't take too long for him to plunge head first into his dementia. A small scene like the one where he gets an extra prescription from his doctor, however, also shows his subtleties. Barbara Rush is also very good as his wife Lou, who as an actress successfully strips away the layers of the very kind, warm, and utmost dutiful wife, and has to actually, finally take charge of things, and do things she wouldn't possibly dream usually, like deception. The son, played by Christopher Olson, might be the weakest link of the three, as he has a character who is, of course, just a boy, and even more put to the extreme test by his father's downward spiral. Even with that it's still a believable turn.

It's a piece of subversion that works all the better because of the hidden ambiguities of the ending. The whole facade of things *seemingly* being this way or another, is like one big joke on the audience. But it's not really a funny one; Ray is in your face with his audience, and it's not in a retrospect way either. Things are not all honky-dory in the Eisenhower era, is what Ray says at the core, and at the end it can hardly be read that everything will turn out well for the family. The implications made are much more stronger and lasting than the actual perceived outcome. Will things be under control with the Avary's? Who knows, is what Ray is saying, or that maybe we can learn from mistakes. But the fact that the facade came down like an avalanche is the point. It's even more surprising then to know that this picture is only available on bootlegs, through certain vendors, only occasionally on TV. If you can find it though, it's a real little ruby of a studio picture.


14 of 19 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Inspiration for 'The Shining?' shaggy61
Plot hole? rahul_capri
UK DVD release? terrypeters_01
Criterion releasing R1 DVD + Blu-Ray on March 23, 2010 pr1mal_1
Anyone else a bit disappointed with the end? motherfckzombies-261-668745
I wonder if MAD MEN's creator has seen this movie... deering24
Discuss Bigger Than Life (1956) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for:
?