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Bigger Than Life (1956)

Not Rated | | Drama | 26 October 1956 (West Germany)
A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity.


Nicholas Ray


Cyril Hume (story and screenplay), Richard Maibaum (story and screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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1 nomination. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
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


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


The Motion Picture You've Been Hearing About ... Reading About ... And Talking About! See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

26 October 1956 (West Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

One in a Million See more »


Box Office


$1,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (FMC Library Print)

Sound Mix:

Mono (optical prints) (Westrex Recording System)| 4-Track Stereo (magnetic prints) (Westrex Recording System)


Color (Color by Deluxe)

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Marilyn Monroe, who was friends with Nicholas Ray and shooting Bus Stop (1956) at an adjoining stage at 20th Century Fox, visited the set one afternoon. Ray talked her over to shoot a brief cameo as a nurse during a hospital sequence, but in the end, the scene was not shot because of her nervousness. The cameo was never intended to be included in the movie. See more »


When Dr. Norton is looking at Ed's electrocardiogram, he is shown viewing it upside down. 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 »

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User Reviews

Father Knows Best
17 May 2013 | by evanston_dadSee all my reviews

How is it that I'd never heard of this movie before?

"Bigger Than Life" is a dream come true for those movie fans (I count myself among them) who love the decade of the 1950s for its total cinematic schizophrenia. I can't think of another decade that created whole omnibuses of films more strongly opposed to one another. It seems that half of the filmmakers of the 50s were churning out earnest Technicolor pap that tried to sell the American public a version of the 50s that simply didn't exist yet which everyone so desperately wanted to believe did, while the other half were making movies about everything that was wrong with the very version of America the other half was clinging to. If you're a fan of subtext in films, and especially interested in seeing how filmmakers could work within the conventions of a genre while turning those conventions against themselves, the 50s are your decade. And for the ultimate master of subtext, look no further than Nicholas Ray.

There isn't a Ray film I've seen that isn't dripping in subtext, socio-political, sexual, gender-based, you name it. "Bigger Than Life" stars a towering James Mason as a family man who's turned into a literal monster when he becomes addicted to a drug that helps keep a life-threatening medical problem at bay. The film goes to some jaw-dropping places, especially toward the end, as Mason's character evolves from protector to worst nightmare and the picture-perfect family life depicted in the earlier parts of the film dissolve before our very eyes. However, Ray's point all along is that that picture-perfect family never really existed in the first place, and the drug on which Mason gets hooked brings out the "id" in him and the family dynamic that's been lurking there all along.

Ray was the rare director who could make the saturated Technicolor and massive Cinemascope aspect ratios of 1950s filmmaking work to his advantage and serve his artistic purposes, rather than simply be used to photograph pretty gowns and landscapes. In fact, despite its Cinemascope grandeur, "Bigger Than Life" is all about cramped interiors -- offices, bedrooms, one's own feverish mind -- and the skeletons in the closets, real and imagined, that are hiding there.

Grade: A

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