Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

December 23, 2011

by Peter Nielsen

We’ve come to the point when it’s time to dip into the classics again, don’t you think? And this week I thought we’d take a look at The Incredible Shrinking Man directed by Jack Arnold. He’s responsible for such gems as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (a personal favorite of mine) and Tarantula for instance. He also worked on lots of TV-shows too. Peter Gunn, Rawhide and Gilligan’s Island just to name three.

The screenplay is adapted from the novel of the same name. The writer of said novel, Richard Matheson, actually adapted it himself, so it’s fairly close to the original, with only minor changes made. I’ve talked about Mr. Matheson before when I reviewed the movie Duel which he also wrote. Other noteworthy titles from this great writer are I am Legend, Hell House and A Stir of Echoes.

Scott and Louise Carey are on a short holiday on board his brother’s small boat. They’re enjoying a sunny day and Louise goes below deck to get another beer for her husband. While she’s there the boat and Scott are engulfed in some sort of strange mist which leaves glittering residue on him. They think nothing more of it and six months later have forgotten all about it.

That is, until Scott begins to notice how his clothes are suddenly getting larger. Louise thinks he’s just losing weight due to working too much, but as his doctor points out, that might explain the weight-loss but certainly not the loss in height. Scott agrees to undergo a series of tests to find out what’s happened to him. What they discover is that the combination of the radioactive mist and some pesticides he’s come in contact with has started a chemical reaction in him that causes him to shrink.

Relaxing on the boat.

Relaxing on the boat.

Over the next couple of months he steadily grows smaller and smaller and takes his frustration out on his wife. He ends up living in a doll-house in their living-room and one day when Louise is going out for groceries, she accidentally lets the housecat in. In a terrifying scene it violently attacks Scott and he ends up wounded and weak in the basement of the house. But his perils doesn’t end here, oh no, they’ve only just started!

He now has to fend for himself in a vast and inhospitable landscape. He finds shelter in an empty matchbox and food in the form of a piece of cake, that Louise has forgotten down there earlier. Unfortunately for him, it sits high up on a shelf, so it’s like scaling a mountainside. Also living in the basement is a large spider. Large for us, but absolutely monstrous for Scott, so he now feels he has to kill this new enemy in order to feel safe.

This is a great little flick and the effects are very, very good. Remember this was made in the late 50’s. The sets look great and the giant props are fantastic, everything from giant matches and pencils to the giant mousetrap. Part of what makes the effects work so well is that they kind of take a backseat to Scott’s narration of his situation.

A terrifying foe!

A terrifying foe!

We learn everything that goes on in his mind through that monologue and in the latter part of the movie the only actual person on screen is Scott. He’s brilliantly played by Grant Williams (The Monolith Monsters, The Leech Woman) and his wife Louise is played by Randy Stuart (mostly TV-work: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Maverick, Cheyenne).

It’s also fascinating to follow Scott’s moods throughout this ordeal. He goes from the ordinary and jovial to, after he discovers he’s shrinking, frustration and behaves tyrannical towards his wife. Not because he doesn’t love her, off course, but the situation they’re in is kind of unique with him getting increasingly smaller and their house being under constant siege by reporters. He feels he’s becoming a burden to her and his feelings of inadequateness drives him to become kind of a bully.

After he falls down into the basement he goes from hopelessness and terror to determination and acceptance. He finds an almost inner calm after he accepts the fact that he’s slowly shrinking out of this world into another microscopic one and even beyond that. But even in this infinitesimal state he senses he has meaning, because as he says in his closing narration: To God there is no zero. I still exist!

And I suppose he does, right? I mean, who decides where existence starts or ends? Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there and an interesting question is, in my opinion, what happens when we can’t even see things with the strongest microscope? What kind of “world” exists on that level? If any! I suppose it would be both interesting and very frightening to suddenly find yourself there…

But we won’t go into that line of questions here. No, instead I’ll just say this: Wow, how do you like that awesome movie poster, huh?

Until next time my friends…

Peter Nielsen Bio

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