Bigger Than Life

Advertised in its original trailer as “a motion picture so shocking you will say, how did they dare make it?” Nicholas Ray’s BIGGER THAN LIFE was not only ignored but condemned when it was released in 1956. Even though it had big stars, a big director and major distribution, the movie-going public at the time favored family friendly flicks like FATHER KNOWS BEST. BIGGER THAN LIFE, on the other hand, chronicles the destruction of the nuclear American family when the father (James Mason, who also played producer) becomes addicted to his prescription of cortisone and is transformed first into an overbearing brute and then into a raging, violent lunatic. In Mason’s own words, “the story of a handful of hope that became a fistful of hell.”

Even though Jean-Luc Godard and friends liked it, BIGGER THAN LIFE has been widely forgotten until recently but it’s now considered one of the best films of the 50s. Criterion, which has spearheaded the renaissance of many of an overlooked classic is a fitting choice its DVD release. Shot in CinemaScope, the film is visually stunning. With noir-esque lighting, a beautiful color palette and that great stagey 50s-ness unique that era only, BIGGER THAN LIFE may not be as relevant as it was at its release, but it’s obvious Godard was onto something.