Review of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie selection. Although the premise was iffy, the movie moves beyond that. The pizza was good, and the wine helped. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife of six years, Louise (Randy Stuart), are vacationing on a boat. He tries to convince her to go below and get him a beer. She declines. Only after he offers to get dinner does she agree to get the beer. While she’s below, a cloud appears on the horizon. Curious, Scott stands up. It’s moving with incredible speed. He decides to try to get away from it, but he’s not quite quick enough. The mist moves over the boat, leaving Scott covered in what looks like glitter.

Some six months later, Scott asks his wife if she’s sure the dry cleaners gave her the right clothes. His pants and shirts no longer fit. She tells him he must be losing weight. At the doctor’s office, he measures 5 feet, 9 inches. He says he’s been 6 feet, 1 inch since he was seventeen. The doctor (William Schallert) shrugs his shoulders. Discrepancies can creep in, ya know.

Scott keeps slowly shrinking. First Louise, then his doctor must take him seriously, sending him to a specialist, Dr. Thomas Silver (Raymond Bailey). Dr. Silver runs a battery of tests on him, deciding he’s in perfect health. There is one anomaly. He asks if Scott has been exposed to insecticide. After some thought, he replies that some month earlier, he passed a truck spraying trees. The doctor then asks about radiation exposure. Louise reminds him about the mist.

Scott is soon unemployed. His brother urges him to sell his story to make ends meet. He keeps a journal, noting the changes in his size and weight. With publicity comes the end of peace, however.

When Scott is small enough to live in a dollhouse, he’s become something of a tiny tyrant. He realizes this does little about it. He’s fashioned a little knife and acts as if he will turn it on himself. One day, Louise goes out shopping, and the family cat, Butch, sneaks in. Scott opens the front door and finds the cat snarling at him. He tries to hide, but there’s little place to go.

He ends up in Louise’s sewing basket—in the basement.

Thoughts:

The premise—exposure to a random cloud of radiation followed by exposure to some insecticide makes an otherwise healthy man slowly shrink in size—is just silly. At one point, his doctors come up with a treatment that seems to halt the process—until it doesn’t. No reason for this failure is given. Nor is there any attempt to retry or retool treatment.

In my seldom humble opinion, what saves this movie is Scott’s reaction to the impossible situation. At first, he sees this as a fault of the dry cleaners. Next, he realizes there’s a medical problem, but his doctor pooh-poohs his concerns. In one striking scene, Scott and Louise discuss implications for their marriage after a visit with the doctor. His wedding slips from his too-small finger onto the floor of the car.

While he still has his wife to boss around, he becomes a little despot, yelling at her for making too much noise coming down the stairs, among other trespasses. After it appears he’s been killed by the cat, and he’s alone in the basement, he has to fight for survival. He stops feeling sorry for himself, in part because he doesn’t have time. The good stuff hits the fan.

The special effects will not blow anyone away in 2021, but they were pretty good for 1957. A giant pair of scissors gleams while Scott manipulates it, for example.

In 1957, the film won a Golden Moon Award at the Faro Island Film Festival for best screenplay. I would not have thought this was a strong point. In 1958, it won a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. In 2009, it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

In Scott’s struggle with his condition, both psychological and philosophical issues arise. First, is the inquiry into what is happening and the incomplete understanding of how and why. He loses his job and his wife, and everything about life he’s known till that point. He has to adapt or die.

There is a darkness to the film, a feeling of watching Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, knowing he did nothing to deserve his fate. Will he go nuts or give in to despair? Or will he take one more step forward, pushing the damn boulder up just a little farther?

Overall, I liked this movie, hokey premise and all.





Title: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Directed by
Jack Arnold

Writing Credits

Richard Matheson…(screenplay)
Richard Matheson…(novel)
Richard Alan Simmons…(screenplay) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Grant Williams…Scott Carey
Randy Stuart…Louise Carey
April Kent…Clarice Bruce
Paul Langton…Charlie Carey

Released: May 17, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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