On DVD: Bigger Than Life (Criterion Collection)

Never before available on home video domestically, The Criterion Collection has finally released Nicholas Ray's groundbreaking Bigger Than Life. It's a claustrophobic, small-scale portrait of 1950s suburbia torn apart by a family man's addiction to prescription codeine. James Mason (who also produced) gave a defining performance in the lead role, undergoing a gripping transformation from middle class dad to psychotic would-be prophet of anti-middle class revolution. Released in 1956 to a largely negative reception, it's no surprise that Americans of the 1950s - eased into self-satisfaction with the realization of the postwar American dream - rejected this depiction of small town lives being violently rent asunder by a repressed subconscious cut loose.

Ed Avery (Mason) is a middle class schoolteacher, who lives in a large house on a pleasant street with his wife Lou (Barbara Rush) and young son Bobby (Christopher Olsen). Plagued by mysterious recurring pain, Avery is prescribed codeine, a then-new "miracle drug" that saves his life. The side effects, however, cause creeping madness in Avery, who begins to envision himself as a hero to society, the savior of his family, and the protector of all morality and ethics. With the help of his friend Wally (Walter Matthau), Lou struggles to escape Ed's increasingly tight clutches and seek aid from his doctors.

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