IMDb > Bigger Than Life (1956)
Bigger Than Life
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Bigger Than Life (1956) More at IMDbPro »


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7.6/10   3,856 votes »
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Up 100% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
Cyril Hume (story) and
Richard Maibaum (story) ...
View company contact information for Bigger Than Life on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
2 August 1956 (USA) See more »
The story of the handful of hope that became a fistful of hell! See more »
A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity. Full summary » | Full synopsis »
1 nomination See more »
(66 articles)
Blu-ray, DVD Release: Caught (1949)
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Film Review: ‘Noah’
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User Reviews:
Angering the PTA See more (52 total) »


  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

James Mason ... Ed Avery

Barbara Rush ... Lou Avery

Walter Matthau ... 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
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Dee Aaker ... Joe (uncredited)
David Bedell ... X-Ray Doctor (uncredited)
Gail Bonney ... Mother at PTA Meeting (uncredited)
Harold Bostwick ... Gentleman (uncredited)
Mary Carroll ... Mother at PTA Meeting (uncredited)
Virginia Carroll ... Mrs. Jones (uncredited)
Mary Carver ... Saleslady (uncredited)
Betty Caulfield ... Mrs. LaPorte (uncredited)
Lewis Charles ... Dr. MacLennan (uncredited)
George Chester ... Janitor (uncredited)
Richard Collier ... Andy - the Milkman (uncredited)
Fred Dale ... Male Nurse (uncredited)
Nan Dolan ... Dr. Norton's Nurse (uncredited)
Alex Frazer ... Clergyman (uncredited)
Grace Hayle ... Mother at PTA Meeting (uncredited)
Bill Jones ... Mr. Byron (uncredited)
Colin Kenny ... Churchgoer (uncredited)
Wilbur Mack ... Churchgoer (uncredited)
Eve March ... Mother at PTA MEETING (uncredited)
Thomas Martin ... Cab Dispatcher (uncredited)
Portland Mason ... Nancy (uncredited)
Natalie Masters ... Mrs. Tyndal (uncredited)

Jerry Mathers ... Freddie (uncredited)
Mary McAdoo ... Mrs. Edwards (uncredited)
Renny McEvoy ... Mr. Jones (uncredited)
Joseph Mell ... Frank - the Cab Dispatcher (uncredited)

Sid Melton ... Cabby (uncredited)
Joe Merritt ... Husband (uncredited)
John Monaghan ... Sam - the Cabby (uncredited)
Eugenia Paul ... Saleslady (uncredited)
Paul Peters ... Gentleman (uncredited)
Gladys Richards ... Lab Nurse (uncredited)
Mary Margaret Robinson ... Child (uncredited)
Gus Schilling ... Druggist (uncredited)
Ann Spencer ... Nurse (uncredited)
Hal Taggart ... Churchgoer (uncredited)

Directed by
Nicholas Ray 
Writing credits
Cyril Hume (story and screenplay) and
Richard Maibaum (story and screenplay)

Burton Roueche (article in The New Yorker) (as Berton Roueché)

Gavin Lambert  uncredited
James Mason  uncredited
Clifford Odets  uncredited
Nicholas Ray  uncredited

Produced by
James Mason .... producer
Original Music by
David Raksin 
Cinematography by
Joseph MacDonald (director of photography) (as Joe MacDonald)
Film Editing by
Louis R. Loeffler  (as Louis Loeffler)
Art Direction by
Jack Martin Smith 
Lyle R. Wheeler 
Set Decoration by
Stuart A. Reiss (set decorations)
Walter M. Scott (set decorations)
Costume Design by
Mary Wills (costumes designed by)
Makeup Department
Ben Nye .... makeup artist
Helen Turpin .... hair styles
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Eli Dunn .... assistant director
Sound Department
W.D. Flick .... sound
Harry M. Leonard .... sound
Ray Bomba .... sound editor (uncredited)
Ralph Hickey .... sound editor (uncredited)
Visual Effects by
Ray Kellogg .... special photographic effects
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Charles Le Maire .... executive wardrobe designer (as Charles LeMaire)
Editorial Department
Leonard Doss .... color consultant
Music Department
Lionel Newman .... conductor
Edward B. Powell .... orchestrator
Crew verified as complete

Production CompaniesDistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
95 min | 91 min (FMC Library Print)
Aspect Ratio:
2.55 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (optical prints) (Westrex Recording System) | 4-Track Stereo (magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)
Finland:K-16 | UK:X (original rating) | UK:12 (tv rating) | UK:12 (video rating) (2006) | UK:12A (re-rating) (2003) | USA:Not Rated | USA:Approved (MPAA rating: certificate #18042) | West Germany:16 (f)

Did You Know?

Average Shot Length (ASL) = 11 secondsSee more »
Crew or equipment visible: 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 »
Ed Avery:Childhood is a congenital disease - and the purpose of education is to cure it. We're breeding a race of moral midgets.See more »
Movie Connections:
Featured in How to Be a Man (2013)See more »


Will Nicholas Ray's 'Bigger Than Life' ever be available on DVD?
See more »
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful.
Angering the PTA, 8 December 2008
Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA

James Mason produced the movie, suggesting to me that it was he who got this very noncommercial property filmed and released. It's a top-notch cast directed by cult favorite Nicholas Ray, but the material is a decided downer despite the originality. There were several films out at the time dealing with drug addiction (e.g. Hatful of Rain, Man with the Golden Arm). This, however, is the only one I know dealing with addiction to a prescription drug, Cortisone. Since similar attachments have spread over the decades, the theme has come to anticipate a more general social problem. Thus, its relevance carries over even for today's audiences.

Mason plays Ed Avery, a high-school teacher and normal family man. I like the way the screenplay works in the fact that he can't support a family on a teacher's income, and so has a second job as a cabbie. As a result, his day is filled from dawn to dusk. Small wonder, then, that he begins suffering blackouts, which doctors diagnose as a rare arterial disorder. (It's not made clear what has caused the problem. Overwork? Genetics?) A new drug, Cortisone, is prescribed for an indefinite period of usage. Up to now, Ed has been a friendly, well-liked family man and co-worker. So it's a harrowing trajectory to watch him go through increasingly intense periods of mental breakdown as a side effect of the new drug.

It's an excruciating descent into delusions of grandeur and megalomania, with few efforts at softening the agony. As the delusions mount, Ed abusively lectures a PTA meeting, berates and condemns his wife (Rush), becomes a Nazi-like taskmaster to his son (Olsen), and even tries to re-enact Abraham's sacrifice of son Isaac. Now, there were many so-called scary B- movies out at the time. But none, I believe, are any scarier than Mason's portrayal of the ravaged high-school teacher. Probably half the audience went home to check their medicine chest.

The only fault I find is with wife Lou's behavior. In my book, she's too passive to be believable in the face of the growing ordeal, especially as her son is affected. Ray brings out an unusual but expected degree of intensity in Mason's performance, with another of his trademarks centering on the action around the family staircase, perhaps symbolizing the mounting madness. Also, I wouldn't be surprised that Ray and Mason took a cut in pay to get the project made. The only concession to commercialism that I can spot is the expected 1950's ending, which nonetheless is more a relief than a disappointment—a tribute, I think, to the caliber of what's there on screen. Anyway, the movie comes across as an unusual and searing melodrama, prescient for its time.

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Message Boards

Discuss this movie with other users on IMDb message board for Bigger Than Life (1956)
Recent Posts (updated daily)User
Plot hole? rahul_capri
Inspiration for 'The Shining?' shaggy61
Anyone else a bit disappointed with the end? motherfckzombies-261-668745
I wonder if MAD MEN's creator has seen this movie... deering24
inspiration for 'Mutiny' episode of VTTBOTS? jarnoldfan
Cortisone is an excuse ***spoilers*** chapmanshomer
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