BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in April 2005We've left it here for reference.More information

21 August 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Shropshire

Black Country
Hereford & Worcester

Related BBC Sites


Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


James Mason in Bigger Than Life
15 Bigger Than Life (2003)

updated 14 November 2003
reviewer's rating
5 out of 5
Reviewed by Tom Dawson
average user rating
4 Star

Nicholas Ray
Cyril Hume
Richard Maibaum
James Mason
Barbara Rush
Christopher Olsen
Walter Matthau
Robert Simon
Roland Winters
95 minutes
Contains mild violence and theme of mental degeneration
28 November 2003
Web Links
Official site

Rate This Film
What did you think of this film?
Select your star rating from the options below

Star Rating: 1  1
Star Rating: 2  2
Star Rating: 3  3
Star Rating: 4  4
Star Rating: 5  5
Average star rating: 4.5 from 24 votes

A superbly shot critique of the suffocating conformity, repression and materialism at the heart of middle-class life, Bigger Than Life is the American Beauty of 50s cinema.

It may not be as well known to audiences as Rebel Without A Cause and In A Lonely Place, but Nicholas Ray's allegorical domestic melodrama lays claim to being the maverick American director's finest and most subversive work.


First released in 1956 to mediocre reviews, it stars the brooding James Mason, an overworked and dissatisfied suburban schoolteacher forced to supplement his income by working on the switchboard of a taxi firm. Diagnosed with an incurable inflammation of the arteries, Ed is prescribed the experimental 'wonder drug' Cortisone by his doctors. Initially his levels of self-confidence and energy are powerfully boosted, but the psychological side-effects prove alarming.

Scorning his life of "petty domesticity", he begins to bully loving wife Lou (Barbara Rush) and child (Christopher Olsen). And his ideas for megalomaniac educational schemes are followed by homicidal feelings towards the very people he loves.


Shooting in Cinemascope, Ray brilliantly uses bold colours, expressionistic shadows, and the precise framing of domestic architecture (particularly of the staircase in the family home), to convey both atmosphere and meaning. Ed's transformation involves moments of darkly ironic humour, not least his speech at a parents' evening, where he derides the children as "moral midgets". "Childhood is a congenital disease," he declares, "the task of education is to cure it."

The drugs in the film serve as a catalyst for the emergence of Ed's hitherto repressed frustrations and anxieties. Yet although Bigger Than Life can be read metaphorically as the playing out of murderous desires, it retains an emotional force because of the intensity by which Mason conveys his character's profound torment.

Find out more about "Bigger Than Life" at
Movie Review Query Engine
The Internet Movie Database

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Top| Films Index | Home

BBC Shropshire Bollywood news, reviews and galleries
Red bullet point Bollywood film galleries
BBC Shropshire film search
Red bullet point What to see in Shropshire
BBC Shropshire guide to top ten films to watch this month
Red bullet point What to watch this month
BBC Shropshire film vault
Red bullet point Packed full of film reviews

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy