The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

JACK ARNOLD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1957. . Screenplay by , based on his novel. Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by , , , . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Universal packaged and released this as a B movie, but it’s got an A-level script and top-flight visual effects that still look great.  is terrific as a man who is enjoying a vacation on the open water with his wife  () when their boat travels through a mysterious cloud of what he doesn’t realize is some kind of radioactive material.   Stuart was downstairs getting a beer when it happened so only our hero is affected, though it’s a few days before he starts to notice that his clothing is getting loose on him. Knowing that he is not losing weight, he becomes distraught when he realizes that he’s losing height and not just girth; by the time he’s the size of a child, he has been examined by numerous doctors and his story has gotten out to the press, who turn his front lawn into a circus.  Williams and his doctors believe at one point that they have found a treatment that, while not restoring him to his original size, has stopped him getting any smaller, at which point he flirts with the possibility of starting a new life with a young woman who is herself a little person (but is not played by a little person, with silly effects used on sitting in oversized chairs).  That ends quickly when he discovers that he is continuing to shrink, eventually small enough to live in the doll house on his living room floor while his wife can barely console herself for her sorrow.   Believe it or not, this is where things really get crazy, as Williams not only distraught over his fate but is at the mercy of previously innocuous dangers, beginning with the family cat and ending with him being accidentally tossed into the basement where his wife can neither see or hear him, believing him killed by their pet. The filmmakers build up great procedural drama in the first half as the character collects data proving that he is not just imagining what is happening to him, then torture you with excruciating sequences in the last third by using their money shots to create the Herculean-level tasks he must accomplish to try and save himself.  Silly and exploitative as the subject might seem, and dated as much of its dramatic execution might be, this is a film that never for a moment underestimates its audiences and delivers plenty of thrills to go with its astute exploration of its themes, daring to end with a kind of philosophical musing that you usually get from a great sci-fi novella.

The Criterion Collection:  #1100

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