The title The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) screams awesome B-movie schlock. However the reality of this Richard Matheson penned, Jack Arnold directed film is a little more contemplative and thought provoking than that.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still awesome battles between our shrunken hero and a ‘giant’ spider, but this is a fair way from Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) territory. The film wastes no time breaking with the convention you might be expecting, as a borderline meta voiceover is revealed to be the Shrinking Man himself, speaking in the past tense, so I guess we can presume that he survives the ordeal. We see the main character Scott Carey exposed to a kind of mist whilst lounging around on a boat and then the action shifts to six months later. There is a subtlety to the start of his change as initially his clothes do not fit right, he loses his appetite and then his wife no longer has to get on tip toes to kiss him. From there Carey endeavours to find a medical cure for his predicament, with mixed results. The film has that 50s sense of a great emotional scene. At one point as Scott is down about things and concerned his wife should leave him and she responds ‘as long as you’ve got that wedding ring, you’ve got me. Then right at that moment Scott’s wedding ring clatters off his shrinking finger. The second part of the film morphs into more of an adventure film as Scott becomes trapped in the basement, facing many tense dangers, not the least of which is a spider which resides in the same room. I like this latter section of the film, it is a nice change-up from the almost domestic drama feel to the first half. The entire film, even this more adventurous later period is played very straight. So what could have been a very light hearted look at a man shrinking becomes a cerebral look at the terror that would surely invade your psyche if you were literally shrinking. Where would it end?
The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from that era of film where such care was taken with each aspect of production before a film was released. This is evident right from the opening credits, which have a distinct James Bond feel to them, as a silhouette of a man gradually shrinks as a song plays. Perhaps not as common for the time was the presentation of the main character. His physical condition really affects him emotionally (in a very realistic way) which leads to him lashing out increasingly at his ever-loving wife Louise. So great is the strain on Scott, that he explicitly contemplates suicide which is pretty forward and shocking for a film of this vintage and is part of a seriousness that makes the film so original. The effects are a mixed bag watching them today. The parts where Scott is onscreen by himself, dwarfed by his former everyday surroundings, look great and were presumably achieved through practical and set dressing techniques. Also impressive, but more dated, are those instances where the shrinking man is onscreen with another person or an animal. There is a ghosting on many of these effects, with Carey appearing see-through at times. It is not particularly distracting, but I guess in an age where CGI would make that sort of thing exceptionally simple, it does stand out. Without a doubt the boldest and most shocking part of this film, one which bucks convention throughout, is the ending. The tension through the second part of the film builds and all the while I was expecting a conventional Hollywood ending. Instead, without giving too much away, the film delivers possibly the most un-Hollywood ending ever. Rather, it is an introspective and philosophical end that leaves you thinking about it in the days after the film finishes. I loved it, would have to be one of my favourite endings ever actually.
This is well worth checking out for any sci-fi fan or hell, even any fan of philosophical and thought provoking films. Didn’t think I would be writing that. It has some minor issues, but overall it is easy to see why it is considered such an all time classic.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
2014 Progress: 15/101