The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

10 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The 1957 science-fiction film “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” written by Richard Matheson (based on his novel), takes the idea of an ordinary person exploring an alien planet, and brings it closer to home. This is a story in which a man is continuing to shrink with each passing day until he is so small that his own home becomes a whole new, treacherous world for him. It’s a clever idea, executed wonderfully (and effectively) in “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” with a great sense of danger and adventure, as well as some nicely-done special effects.

It begins as Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) are on vacation at sea when Scott is enveloped in a radioactive mist. Since then, his clothes don’t fit, he’s losing weight, and worst of all, he’s losing height. Every day, he keeps getting smaller. Several weeks later, he is the size of a small boy as he becomes famous (and known as the Incredible Shrinking Man), while the doctors are searching for a cure.

The first half is mainly about how Scott and Louise deal with this strange phenomenon surrounding Scott, and it’s exceedingly well-done. You really feel the pain that each of them are going through, with Scott being regarded as a freak and Louise feeling helpless to him. It’s acted with a great deal of conviction, given the material—the best example is when the camera is focused on the back of an armchair while Louise and Scott’s brother Charlie (Paul Langton) are talking; the revealing shot of the diminutive Scott, sitting in the armchair, is most effective not because of the effect, but because of the blank expression of Grant Williams’ face. The melancholic situation becomes even clearer.

Then, we reach the second half of “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” which transforms the film into an adventure story. Scott is now small enough to live in a dollhouse and Louise walking about the house becomes too much for him to handle. Then, when Louise leaves the house for a little while, something unexpected happens. The family housecat comes into the house and attacks Scott, chasing him about the house until he reaches the cellar, where he is accidentally and ultimately trapped. Louise comes back to believe that the cat has eaten Scott and so no one is going to come down to the cellar looking for him, leaving Scott to endure the new world he has brought himself into.

The film is advertised with the tagline, “A Fascinating Adventure Into the Unknown!” I would have to agree. Scott is inside the cellar, he can’t climb the stairs, he calls for help but no one can hear him, and the floor expands like a vast wasteland. He gets water from a leaking boiler (drops are the sizes of golf balls), he now lives in a matchbox, he has to get food from a mouse trap and high atop a cabinet that towers over him, and he is menaced by a tarantula loose in the cellar. It’s a treacherous new world that is of course Scott’s from a different scale.

The giant sets are (forgive the pun) largely convincing and really make you believe that there is a tiny man in a giant world. And the suspense of the second half, as Scott braves this unknown land, really comes through. The adventure keeps building and building as it goes along, with Scott scaling the walls, crossing a Grand Canyon-type of pit, and eventually doing battle with the spider.

Throughout the movie, we get a close look at Scott’s psyche, so that we understand his plight and sympathize with him. Much of this element is further improved in the final few minutes, as Scott is coming to terms with the idea that he will shrink into nothing…or will he? The film ends with an inner monologue (one of the best acting monologues, in my opinion), in which Scott now accepts his fate and looks forward to an adventure in an even smaller realm and beyond. He believes that no matter how small he will get, he will never become nothing and will still matter in the universe, thus ending his fears of future shrinking. This is not, nor has it ever been, a standard miniature-adventure story. There’s a psychological element to it that makes it special—exploring power and acceptance. That ending is just fantastic. I’m pleasantly surprised that the writers really had it in them to do this instead of taking the easy way out.

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