Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), directed by Jack Arnold.

I hadn't seen this for many years but watched it so often as a kid that I still had it memorized, although I had forgotten the poignant moment his wedding ring falls off.

It divides neatly into equal halves: the first part can be a bit "cute" with the actor dealing with large size furniture, a gimmick we've seen in other tiny people films like Dr. Cyclops (1940) and Attack of the Puppet People (1958). And yet: his anguish is real and keeps the story from seeming totally ridiculous. His "condition" can symbolize all forms of male inadequacy. I've heard there aren't enough tall men in the world to satisfy female requirements.

The story changes entirely when he becomes Tom Thumb-sized and is trapped in the basement, a survivor in a whole realm of his own, Crusoe-like. (Did you imagine that when you were young?) His personality changes and he becomes more focused, perhaps even happier without realizing it.

And then... the Spider and his epic battle to the death over crumbs of food. Filmed with real tarantulas, these are perhaps the best spider scenes until Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). And: no CGI.

Finally, the soliloquy of the last transcendent scene. Jack Arnold was the only creature-feature director who could have done it:


So close -- the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet -- like the closing of a gigantic circle.

I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends is man's conception, not nature's.

And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too.

To God, there is no zero.

I still exist!

The effects processing is pretty obvious but for some reason doesn't take me out of the picture, just as Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion films are fun without looking realistic.

Again: the basement is an entirely different world with fascinating closeup textures of dirt and cement. Really lovely photography in spots.

Grant Williams -- The Monolith Monsters (1957) -- has seemed like a bland actor, but he delivers in the second half. They say he put everything into a grueling schedule and got beat up by it.

Other familiar faces: William Schallert (later president of the Screen Actors Guild), Raymond Bailey (banker Drysdale in The Beverly Hillbillies) and dwarf Billy Curtis -- Saboteur (1942), High Plains Drifter (1973).

Richard Matheson was just about to give up writing when the studio bought this story. He insisted on doing the film treatment himself and that is how he broke into screenwriting. Without him we would not have:

...and a wealth of other film adaptations and TV episodes, often tales of mystery and imagination.

He agrees that the second half of the film is better than the first. His conception was of a non-linear structure employing flashbacks but the studio wouldn't go for it.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion. The always happy Tom Weaver gives a fact-filled commentary on the production, with a big bag of ridicule for the effects and story.

He claims that the hard-working 1950s film cat Orangey was actually a stable of cats each trained for specific functions. The original was a notoriously bad-tempered foundling, last seen in This Island Earth (1955), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and The Comedy of Terrors (1963).

He also brings on film music expert David Schecter who argues that much of the score is inappropriate to the story, a result of producer meddling. But he also says it picks up in the second half, particularly for the spider battle.