This week one of the great "unseen" American films, Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life (1956), makes its debut on Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray. Over the years, it has been selected for things like Film Comment's best movies unreleased on video, Jonathan Rosenbaum's 100 greatest films, and Jean-Luc Godard's ten greatest American films. Martin Scorsese included a tantalizing clip of it in his great 1995 documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. In 2002, a screening of it turned up in my town. I saw it along with about 100 other lucky people and was able to confirm its greatness.
What's peculiar is that it came just a year after Ray's big hit Rebel Without a Cause, which is one of the best-known and most iconic of all American films. So what happened to Bigger Than Life? Why has it become such a rarity? I'm not really sure, save to say that it was extremely controversial, and greatly upset the film censors of the time. It was also a financial flop. Most likely those involved with it just wanted to sweep it under the rug and move on.