Bigger Than Life


James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau,

One of Nicholas Ray’s least-known films is also acclaimed by many critics as his best, featuring James Mason (who also produced the film) in one of his finest performances. Mason portrays a small-town schoolteacher who moonlights as a taxi driver to supplement his salary. When he begins taking cortisone to ward off the crippling effects of arthritis, his personality takes on a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation. As he becomes increasingly deranged and ineffectual as a husband and father, his sense of failure plays off against delusions of grandeur; he devises grandiose schemes, including one biblically inspired plot to sacrifice his young son. Ray’s use of CinemaScope photography to frame this intense, close-in psychological drama is even more remarkable than in Rebel Without a Cause; what emerges is a powerful and many-layered vision of the pressures of middle-class life turning its uncomprehending victims into monsters.

—Judy Bloch

Event Accessibility

If you have any questions about accessibility or require accommodations to participate in this event, please contact us at or call us at (510) 642-1412 (during open hours) with as much advance notice as possible. More information on accessibility services.

  • Cyril Hume
  • Richard Malbaum
Based On
  • New Yorker article by Berton Roueche

  • Joe MacDonald
Print Info
  • Color
  • 35mm
  • 95 mins
  • 20th Century Studios/Criterion Pictures