Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Plot: After being exposed to a strange fog a man starts shrinking and continues to do so until he is the size of an insect.
Background: Long before Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and many decades before the Ant-Man movies there was 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man, which turned 65 last month (February 22 to be precise). It was directed by 50s Sci Fi icon Jack Arnold who also helmed It Came From Outer Space (1953), The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and Tarantula (1955). It stars Grant Williams as Robert “Scott” Carey, the titular Shrinking Man, and 40s/50s mainstay Randy Stuart as his wife Louise. With not-so-miniscule SPOILER ALERT let’s dive into my review:
Review: One of the many pleasures of this site and heading the Science Fiction desk (“desk”, so fancy) is discovering Sci Fi classics like this one. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it has instantly become one of my top 50s Sci Fi flicks. Let’s start with the acting. It’s quite the small cast, with most of the screen time being devoted to Williams’ Scott, especially in the third act, and secondly to Stuart’s Louise. There are a few supporting characters, including Scott’s brother, a couple of doctors, and a very attractive “Midget” (the term was not yet politically incorrect) who befriends Scott, but the focus remains the couple throughout.
Williams did a couple of Westerns, a couple dramas and a noir crime film before taking on what would become the role is he most famous for, Robert “Scott” Carey. He carries (no pun intended) the majority of the film and does a fantastic job at it. He starts off as a gregarious, fun-loving husband but the toll of his condition eventually turns him into an agitated, bitter, withdrawn, paranoid and desperate man who lashes out at his wife. But through continued narration (which works very well) the audience understands the misery he is going through and he remains an attractive protagonist even at his ugliest. Randy Stuart also does a commendable job as Scott’s loyal and longsuffering wife Louise. There is a unstated strength and resilience to her performance that made the tragedy of her situation all the more heartbreaking.
The other outstanding aspect of The Incredible Shrinking Man is the effects. Now the visual effects work (black velvet trick photography) to make Williams look tiny would seem dated to modern audiences, but it is still pretty impressive for the time. But even more impressive was the practical effects work, specifically the prop work. It is simply mind-blowing and I can imagine the level of work that went into creating these giant props. Practical effects always has more weight and tangibility than anything computer generated, and the prop work here made it very easy to believe this grown man had shrunken to the size of a dwarf, and then a small child, and then an ant. I also enjoyed how subtly they first introduced the shrinking with his clothes “getting bigger”. Really good stuff.
I must also heap praise upon the plot and the pacing. The concept of a man shrinking could easily have gone to some silly or outlandish places but the story is presented very soberly and seriously. This has the effect of making Scott’s journey feel more relatable and ultimately more tragic. And there is a welcome mix of dramatic scenes and action sequences, with both the cat attack and the climactic showdown with the spider feeling tense and thrilling. The final act of Scott being trapped alone in the basement almost feels like a wonderful self-contained story in itself, like something from The Twilight Zone. It is a thoughtful, exciting and entertaining mini-tale of struggle and survival that ends the film on quite the high note.
And speaking of endings, test audiences were unhappy with Scott not returning to his normal size but screenwriter Richard Matheson stuck to his guns. I am glad he did because a happy ending would have undermined what came before. Scott’s existential epiphany and contemplation of God and his place in the universe was quite impactful and beautiful, though tinged with melancholy.
What else can I say but if you love 50s classic Sci Fi and you have never seen it definitely check it out. And if you have, I am sure you will get a huge kick out of revisiting it.
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
Are you a big fan of The Incredible Shrinking Man (I swear that’s my last size pun)? And you can check out more great 50s Sci Fi content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.