The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)I’ve been waiting for my next review to shout out to me, it nearly happened last night with a biopic that left me confused, almost a reason to stop and write my thoughts about the film. The need passed me by. Now fresher in the mind another classic sci-fi B-movie, I’ve seen a few still from The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) which is one of those not so rare as I thought un-happy endings which Hollywood shied away from. OK it’s not completely sad as I’ll get to later on but as near as you can get for the mid 1950’s which saw a studio turning out a number of low-budget films. Of course they made up for it with their Westerns and little else through the decade.

What made The Incredible Shrinking Man me stay was the special effects to an extent. This was a precursor to later bigger budgets, such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) which itself was a spoof of the genre. The cheapness of the up-scaled props which become the whole set, such as a pair of scissors, a matchbox or even a spool of cotton which would be a just the finishing touches. When we see everyday objects blown up to twice their size we pay more scrutiny to them and the world they are in. The devil really is in the detail here as a man who is forever shrinking has to learn to survive. The everyday becomes the unknown here. We marvel at the detail at these sculptures that we wouldn’t normally notice, the care and attention in the sets for this film can literally be incredible at times. At others time has shown them up, looking at the chunk of cheese and the staircase. Ultimately it’s the art departments interpretation, and their budget which was mostly taken up by the special effects shots.

The film is also a breakaway from the norm of the genre of the time. Usually we follow a scientist, and his girl usually as they investigate the phenomenon that is plaguing America (and the world). Usually getting help from the government or the military who throw all they’ve got behind thwarting the enemy into submission. A standard film. Here we have an average guy with a beautiful wife, and a rich brother. Already he is not the most desirable lead, yet Scott Carey (Grant Williams) narrates the film which a sense of achievement, hope that what he has been through has a happy ending. I am always wondering whether they will find a cure. He is at the mercy of science who is slow to accept that something is happening.

So why such a downer of the genre that is conforming as far as authority ignores the first signs. When it’s too late his condition/situation’s taken seriously it’s too late. You could relate this to a fatal medical condition that goes ignored until the signs are picked up and it’s too late to really make a difference. Scott has to believe there is hope for him, like anyone whose given an untimely diagnosis. He’s the victim who has to live with the consequences of unknown science and has to learn to accept the limitations of modern science that’s trying find a cure.

I found myself thinking about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) as the boy born old dies young and ultimately becomes a collection of cells then nothing. Scott is being reduced in size before he becomes very much the same, nothing. The film could have easily taken the route down the freak-show that could have seen him travel the country as he continues to shrink. It is even touched on, becoming a media sensation which becomes more of a burden, the pressure along with his diminishing size becomes hard to live with, demanding on his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) who is able to live through it all. She stays with him up the end, well what she believes to be the end.

What we really caught my attention above all the special effects and the every-man suffering in the face of 20th century science. Its the scenes which lose the dialogue completely, OK the odd narration here and there as we follow Scott as he survives in the new world of the basement. Doesn’t sound that exciting until you see it for yourself. This isn’t the laughable dolls-house he has come to live in. The basement is his desert, the landscape he has to survive. Its a culmination of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. The small annoyances of the his old world become trials to overcome, to survive. Making this unusual for the genre that relies on being bigger in ways this film isn’t. Turning the idea on it’s head, we have scale in different terms.


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