Bigger Than Life

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Bigger Than Life
Bigger Than Life poster.jpeg
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by James Mason
Written by Story:
Berton Roueché
Cyril Hume
Richard Maibaum
Starring James Mason
Barbara Rush
Walter Matthau
Music by David Raksin
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
2 Aug 1956
Running time
95 mins
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million[1]

Bigger Than Life is an American DeLuxe Color CinemaScope film made in 1956 directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Mason, who also co-wrote and produced the film, about a school teacher and family man whose life spins out of control upon becoming addicted to cortisone. The film co-stars Barbara Rush as his wife and Walter Matthau as his closest friend, a fellow teacher. Though it was a box-office flop upon its initial release, many modern critics hail it as a masterpiece and brilliant indictment of contemporary attitudes towards mental illness and addiction.[citation needed] In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard named it one of the ten best American films ever made.[2]

Bigger Than Life was based on a 1955 The New Yorker article by medical writer Berton Roueché entitled "Ten Feet Tall".[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Schoolteacher and family man Ed Avery (James Mason), who has been suffering bouts of severe pain and even blackouts, is hospitalized with what is diagnosed as polyarteritis nodosa, 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. He returns home to his wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and their son, Richie (Christopher Olsen). He must keep taking cortisone tablets regularly to prevent a recurrence of his illness. But the "miracle" cure turns into a nightmare when Ed begins to misuse the tablets, causing him to experience wild mood swings and, ultimately, a psychotic episode which threatens the safety of his family.



Bigger Than Life was extremely controversial upon its release.[citation needed] Its critique of the patriarchal family was considered shocking for the time, and it was not a financial success'[citation needed] however the film was extremely popular with the critics at the Cahiers du cinéma and in 1963 Jean-Luc Godard named it one of the "Ten Best American Sound Films".[citation needed]


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p250
  2. ^ Editors (December 2, 2013) "A Young Jean-Luc Godard Picks the 10 Best American Films Ever Made (1963). Open Culture.
  3. ^ Roueché, Berton (1955), "Ten Feet Tall", The New Yorker; September 10, 1955, pp. 47-77.

External links[edit]