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Bigger Than Life (1956)

Bigger Than Life (1956) (1956)

tomatometer

83

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 5 | Rotten: 1

No consensus yet.

audience

86

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 1,510

My Rating

Movie Info

A seriously ill schoolteacher becomes dependent on a "miracle" drug that begins to affect his sanity.

Mar 23, 2010

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All Critics (28) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (2) | DVD (7)

The suits wanted a torn-from-the-headlines melodrama; what they got was the director at his expressionistic best, subverting the suburban fantasy and leaving nothing but tattered gray flannel and scorched earth in his wake.

December 25, 2008 Full Review Source: Time Out New York
Time Out New York
Top Critic IconTop Critic

James Mason has picked a powerful subject for his first 20th-Fox production and delivers it with quite a bit of dramatic distinction in carrying out the supervisory duties and as the male lead.

October 23, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's hard to think of another Hollywood picture with more to say about the sheer awfulness of 'normal' American family life during the 50s.

October 23, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Those who remember the creeping terror and eeriness of Mr. Roueché's real-life yarn will be sorry to learn that there is little terror or eeriness in the film.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: New York Times | Comments (2)
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is Rebel Without a Cause for the grown-up world.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

...an amazing critique of conventional 1950s morality...

September 15, 2011 Full Review Source: Playback:stl
Playback:stl

A masterful melodrama whose aesthetic beauty works in service of a stinging social critique.

June 8, 2011 Full Review Source: Lessons of Darkness
Lessons of Darkness

...is a dark cautionary tale about suburban ennui that feels like an unacknowledged antecedent to the AMC TV series Breaking Bad.

June 1, 2010 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The epitome of a social problem film, in which the "crisis of conformism" bursts open in every single tension-producing frame.

May 5, 2010 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

[D]rop the 'Reefer' and call this film 'Cortisone Madness.'

April 21, 2010 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

It's all horrifying, and its eerie resemblance to the McCarthy-esque paranoia and fear that swept the nation makes Bigger Than Life extremely powerful.

April 18, 2010 Full Review Source: Film and Felt
Film and Felt

a surprisingly expressionistic horrorshow, a frightening and indelible portrait of the nuclear family turned into a hellish emotional torture chamber

April 14, 2010 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

The film is a tricky mix of glossy Technicolor realism and elevated expressionism that feels both marvelously classic and aggressively modern.

March 22, 2010 Full Review Source: Seanax.com
Seanax.com

The sort-of picture-perfection of the suburban home...is a tenuous cover for the unpredictability of life, the short distance between the American Dream and the American nightmare. [Blu-ray]

March 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

Ed's vision is demented and distorted, and yet, Ray insinuates, doesn't his protagonist, in an odd way, see through the smug mediocrity that is 1950s America?

September 17, 2009 Full Review Source: Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix

Always a shrewd melodramatist, with a particular eye for the domestic space, Ray builds this sense of conflict into the Avery home itself, with its frequently competing horizontal and vertical patterns.

August 8, 2009 Full Review Source: Reverse Shot
Reverse Shot

A commercial flop at the time, Ray's 1956 film, made right after Rebel Without Cause, is nonethless one of his most poignant and visually compelling critiques of American suburban life, featuring James Mason in top form.

March 17, 2009 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

It was as much undervalued and misunderstood as the films Douglas Sirk was making at the time.

October 23, 2007 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

An extraordinarily rich study of mid-1950s malaise.

October 23, 2007 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Recognized by many as one of the better films ever made.

May 20, 2007 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Jean-Luc Godard ranked this among the finest US films ever made. Recommendation enough.

December 30, 2006 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for Bigger Than Life (1956)

I liked it. Actually, I really, really liked it. Give me more. Damn it, I need MORE!
January 4, 2011
brooklynspo

Super Reviewer

wow. james mason is seriously frightening as he slowly loses his grip on reality due to prescription drug addiction. a great look under the idyllic facade of the 50's
December 26, 2010
rubystevens
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

this film made me get n the edge of my seat.
August 7, 2010
erika250
erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

Bigger Than Life is a movie I've looked forward to for a few years since seeing Martin Scorsese's Journey Through American Movies. Seeing James Mason in the throes of psychosis about to murder his son and claiming GOD WAS WRONG for not having Abraham kill Isaac was enough to add this to my must see list. Bigger Than Life is a hell of a lot like a Douglas Sirk movie with less saturated colors and slightly less melodrama. Mason is great as the All-American dad who goes nuts after getting addicted to cortisone and Walter Matthau as his plot device/friend. As good a job as Mason did in his decent into madness, Nicolas Ray's direction was the real standout here. Worth the ride if you can get your hands on it.
October 6, 2008
mjgildea

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Eine Handvoll Hoffnung (DE)
  • Bigger Than Life (1956) (UK)
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