Review: Bigger Than Life DVD

STUDIO: Criterion Collection | DIRECTOR: Nicholas Ray | CAST: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau, Christopher Olsen
RELEASE DATE: 3/23/2010 | PRICE: DVD $39.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: commentary by critic Geoff Andrew, video appreciation by Jonathan Lethem, video interview with Susan Ray, interview with Nicholas Ray
SPECS: NR | 95 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital mono

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

One of the most well-regarded films of Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) finally makes its home entertainment bow, after having been absent from Fox’s DVD and VHS catalogs.

The 1956 movie Bigger Than Life stands as a lacerating critique of the “average” middle-class family in 1950s America, as a typical husband and father (James Mason) is treated for a rare ailment with a “miracle drug” that turns him into a Nietzschean madman. Ray’s mastery of the Cinemascope image is fully apparent in this gorgeous restoration of the film, but diehard buffs will be just as interested in the package’s extras.

A commentary track on the DVD by critic Geoff Andrew historically situates the film and informs us that Marilyn Monroe shot a walk-on for Ray that Fox studio heads removed for contractual reasons.

In an on-screen introduction to the picture, novelist Jonathan Lethem dissects its themes and symbols thoroughly, while offering an eloquent defense of the casting of ultra-Brit James Mason as an average American dad.

An interview with Ray’s widow Susan Ray finds her reflecting on the film’s relation to her husband’s work, and his brilliantly stylized use of color.

The most welcome supplement is a 1977 TV interview with Ray that, while it focuses primarily on Rebel, underscores Ray’s fascination with the parent-child dynamic and finds him professing his devotion to two phenomena: moviemaking and youth.

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”