The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Incredible Shrinking Man

“Screenplay by Richard Matheson”

Much like “Made in Germany” denotes automobile quality, Matheson’s name on the screen is usually a guarantee of writing excellence. Working mostly in the fantastical genre he had an uncanny knack of teasing out primal fear from what in other hands might have been two-dimensional shlock.

Who doesn’t sweat alongside Wiliam Shatner as he lives his Nightmare at 20,000 feet, share the self-loathing pity of Lee Marvin in Steel, or jolt with terror at the denouement of The Devil Rides Out, the finest film Hammer ever made?

The Incredible Shrinking Man could so easily have been another half-remembered slice of 50s pulp yet in the hands of Matheson it rises and stands peerlessly above its mid-century fantasy and horror contemporaries. Matheson adapted the screenplay from his own book and while the skein of unbound sexuality from the original novel is largely excised the deeply insecure protagonist stays mostly in tact.

Scott Carey has it all. Good looks, a great job, a lissom wife and even a yacht. OK, the boat is a rental but he has sprung for an idyllic trip on the high seas and the film opens with the two of them lounging on deck enjoying both each others’ company and the beautiful weather. Almost right away Scott ruins it by turning chauvinist. He demands the ever-loving Louise get him a beer. But I’m having such a nice time in the sun, dear. Just go get it, he sneers.

His comeuppance arrives in the form of a radioactive cloud that coats him in silvery dust. The irony of course is that Louise misses the same fate by seconds because she is belowdecks fixing the drinks. Back home and a few months down the line Scott’s body reacts and he starts to shrink, slowly at first then more noticeably. At first his wife just thinks he’s lost weight but the process is unstoppable and in one beautiful jump cut we see the condition is so advanced he’s no larger than a child.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

What is gripping about this journey is the way he adjusts to each phase of his dwindling size. Before our eyes he goes through the five stages of grief, and even experiences a brief period of happiness at the midway point when his doctors score a breakthrough and arrest the shrinking process, allowing him to pause and reflect.

He resolves to live a two foot nothing life then meets cute with a female midget from a travelling circus. They develop a rather sweet relationship, and she even charms him at one point by pointing out he is taller than her. Love of a sort blossoms but of course it’s short lived and in no time he is living in a doll’s house being terrified by the once friendly house cat.

Clocking in at a sublime 81 minutes this is a full on ride, made all the more riveting by each scene being played straight, with Scott’s increasingly profound inner dialogue allowing us to glimpse his deepening depths of despair as he fades away to nothing.

Highly recommended.

I’m delighted to offer this review as part of the Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.

The Incredible Shrinking Man – directed by Jack Arnold (1957)


In Short
Rapidly decreasing in physical stature an alpha male is forced to question his very existence.

Trailer here


Universal Pictures Blogathon