DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

Saturday 17 May 2008


The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) dir. Jack Arnold
Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Raymond Bailey


I feel no shame in giving a four-star review to a b-movie which has recently been packaged in a 2-disc ten-movie box set of mostly forgettable sci-fi flicks like “Monster on Campus” and “The Leech Woman”. Jack Arnold's magnificent adventure film “The Incredible Shrinking Man” shines within this new DVD box set. Don’t be fooled by the schlocky title, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is a well-produced sci-fi adventure film with stunning production values. You may not have heard of it, but it's one of the best early sci-fi films ever made.

The film begins introducing Scott Carey and his wife vacationing peacefully on a boat in the ocean. A freak storm quickly blows overhead exposing Scott to an unknown substance. It doesn’t affect him immediately and so he forgets about the incident. Six months later Scott starts noticing oddities. All of his clothes are slightly larger than he remembers, and he’s even slightly shorter. None of the doctors can figure him out, and so gradually over weeks, and months, Scott Carey literally shrinks.

Soon Scott is living in a doll house and still trying to hold together a relationship with his supportive wife. But Scott is doomed because there’s no reversing his mysterious ailment. After a tussle with the housecat, Scott is thought dead, and since he's too small to call for help, he's forced fend for himself against a new environment which is becoming increasingly hostile. Suddenly a small dripping waterheater and a piece of cheese in a mousetrap can provide sustenance, and an innocuous spider becomes a deadly threat. The film becomes an epic adventure of survival in a small space, but one which gets smaller and smaller and smaller, until….

The story was written by the great Richard Matheson who scripted it based on his own novel. Matheson is arguably the most influential writer on modern genre cinema. In addition to many of the best Twilight Zone episodes in the 60's, his novels and short stories begat the modern zombie genre and many of the twist-based supernatural thrillers which M. Night Shyamalan made profitable. He was the master of the high concept and in this film, he tells the story of a man, who, as the title says, literally shrinks continuously. The final moments of Scott Carey’s life put the film into a surprisingly philosophical context. It’s Matheson writing at it’s best. Carey's voiceover provides remarkably intelligent insight into the nature of man, the universe and life and death itself. All this from a schlocky b-movie?

Universal’s "Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection" is a wonderful package put together at a great inexpensive price. It would be worth the $20 or so to pick up the package just for “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. It's a shame this great film is buried amongst other supremely lesser quality films. It's a title worthy of the Criterion treatment, unfortunately there are no extras to enlighten us into the innovative production of the film or Mathieson’s inspirations for the screenplay.

Search out this set and watch this film specifically, it's an adventure film which unfortunately begat the "Honey, I Shrunk the blah blah blah" films, but this original version is a masterpiece of adventure which provides more than just a few cheap thrills. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

I did a project for my class where I actually chose to watch this film. I was so impressed by it, perhaps more so because its title carries with it the aura of a 50's b-movie who's only purpose is to bring about a chuckle or two (see "The Deadly Mantis" or "Invaders from Mars").
Thanks for giving it the recognition it deserves, because it's certainly a "genre gem" of that period (along with "Forbidden Planet", though that came a bit later)
Now I have this strange urge to enjoy me some Harryhausen... :)

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for your comments Silverburst. Sony released some Harryhausen flicks in a couple of terrifically packaged sets. I reviewed them a while ago. I think Shrinking Man trumps those films though. Forbidden Planet is a classic too.