When Scott Carey begins to shrink because of exposure to a combination of radiation and insecticide, medical science is powerless to help him.
“The Incredible Shrinking Man”
Directed by Jack Arnold
9 out of 10
Director Jack Arnold, who brought us some great sci fi movies from the 50′s like Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s sequel, It Came from Outer Space and even Tarantula, also helmed “The Incredible Shrinking Man” in the late 1950′s as well. So, Arnold, being no stranger to sci fi films with cautionary elements running through it’s veins, turns in a smart, interesting and thoughtful movie that transcends the genre and themes of it’s time. Written by the iconic scribe Richard Matheson, based on his novel, the movie is a stunning achievement on a symbolic and technical level. Themes of differences, transcendence, mortality and the mystery of death and what lies beyond the sub-atomic levels of existence. It explores, if indirectly, some heady issues that Matheson and Arnold like to provoke us into actually thinking about. Matheson, as with all of his Twilight Zone contributions, loves to explore themes about things and ideas that exists outside of our reality. What would happen to a man that starts to shrink and continues to shrink until he is nothing more than a sub-atomic particle? Where does he go? What happens to his soul and his mind? All of these things we, the audience, actually ponder long after the movie ends. It takes itself very seriously because it isn’t tongue in cheek or campy. It’s a sci fi gem that is cerebral and entertaining.
The movie, which actually won the first Hugo Award ever, stars Grant Williams ( PT-109) as Scott Carey. Carey is a businessman that while vacationing with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart from All About Eve). While on their boat out in the ocean, Lousie decides to step below deck while Scott is left outside soaking in the sun. He then notices that a strange cloud overtakes the boat. Scott never goes inside and the cloud passes over him leaving a weird, almost snow-like material all over his skin. Louise re-appears and she and Scott are puzzled by the travelling fog that left as quickly as it came. Six months later, Scott, while dressing for work notices that his clothes seem to be a bit too large for him and he quesions Louise about the dry cleaning. She swears that his clothes are the same clothes she has always taken to be cleaned. Scott starts to get suspicious as with everyday that passes his clothes seems bigger on him and he appears to be losing height. When Scott tells Louise that she isn’t tip toeing anymore to kiss him she becomes concerned. His Doctor reassures him that “People do not get shorter.” Scott isn’t convinced and when it becomes clear that he is shrinking he is seen by other Doctors and Scientists at a California Medical Institute. They determine that at some point he must have exposed to radiation and he and Louise figure out that the mysterious cloud may be the culprit. Also, that along with being exposed to insecticide, they figure out that Scott is indeed continuing to shrink.
Arnold and Matheson start to pull us along on a great ride of inventive film-making. Oversized objects like sofas, chairs, telephones, utensils and the such are all on display here. All of these effects are done believably without making it hokey and campy. It’s done with respect to the actors and the material that Matheson supplies. As Scott shrinks, his mind expands. He is frustrated and alone at first but seeks out others like him like a carnival sideshow girl named Clarice (April Kent) who is a “Small” person. They form a friendship and have interesting discussions about their size in relation to the rest of the world. Their exchanges are interesting and very appropriate. A great scene, (that sometimes used to get cut when aired on TV) between Clarice and Scott involves huge coffee cups. The scene is a bit amusing. Eventually Scott can no longer see Clarice because he finds out that the treatments aren’t working and he is starting to become even smaller than Clarice. Arnold continues Scott’s journey with having him suffer against obstacles bigger than him. Not metaphorically but physically. There’s a cat, a spider (A real nasty bastard!), a leaking water heater and even a dollhouse. Louise suspecting that Scott has been killed by the cat even prepares to leave their house and move. Not a happy ending for Scott. He continues to become ever smaller and when he does he resigns to his fate. By this time we know Scott inside and out. He’s brave, devout, smart and resourceful. Matheson wraps up the story in fine form. Scott understands that he will shrink until he becomes part of another realm. A realm where he can still make a difference.
I know there are many fans of “Atomic Age” movies out there especially from the 1950′s and this movie has the honor of being on a very elite list. A list of films like “Gojira” and “Forbidden Planet” as an intelligent and symbolic piece of cinema. If you don’t dig your sci fi movies loaded with allegory and such there’s no worries to be had. “The Incredible Shrinking Man” has some very cool effects, great music and some awesome Big vs Small action enough to please the most jaded of sci fi film fans. Enjoy, gang! HIGHLY recommended!
Vic’s Note: This film was chosen to be preserved by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.