Nicholas Ray‘s Bigger Than Life, a social critique of the bland and suffocating 1950s, is at the Film Forum until Thursday. It’s not on DVD in this country so I should probably set aside the time. “A superbly shot critique of the suffocating conformity, repression and materialism at the heart of middle-class life,” a DVD Beaver critic exclaims, “Bigger Than Life is the American Beauty of 50s cinema.

“Shooting in Cinemascope, Ray brilliantly uses bold colors, expressionistic shadows, and the precise framing of domestic architecture (particularly of the staircase in the family home), to convey both atmosphere and meaning. Ed’s transformation involves moments of darkly ironic humor, not least his speech at a parents’ evening, where he derides the children as “moral midgets”. ‘Childhood is a congenital disease,’ he declares, ‘the task of education is to cure it.’

“The drugs in the film serve as a catalyst for the emergence of Ed’s hitherto repressed frustrations and anxieties. Yet although Bigger Than Life can be read metaphorically as the playing out of murderous desires, it retains an emotional force because of the intensity by which James Mason conveys his character’s profound torment.”