Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)

Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)

“I felt puny and absurd, a ludicrous midget.”

While on a boating excursion with his wife (Randy Stuart), a man (Grant Williams) exposed to atomic radiation soon finds himself shrinking to a smaller and smaller size.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Atomic Energy
  • Jack Arnold Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Science Fiction
  • Survival

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that while this “excellent science-fiction film” may, “like most fifties SF films, [be] scientifically preposterous”, it is still “somehow believable,” and will “strike a responsive chord” in viewers given “its human concerns”. He points out that Richard Matheson’s script (based on his novel The Shrinking Man) deals with “two themes… central to the other SF films of director Jack Arnold: scientific advances in dangerous areas eventually will be destructive to the individual; [and] there is nothing more horrifying than losing one’s identity.” Given its rather simplistic narrative trajectory — Williams shrinks smaller and smaller, with no permanent cure in sight — the film maintains a remarkable amount of tension, thanks to both the savvy, literate script (which possesses plenty of thought-provoking dialogue) and truly outstanding special effects (see stills below for a representative sampling).

As we watch Williams — a “sympathetic hero” — spiraling closer and closer to death, with “his home no longer a sanctuary but a booby-trapped battlefield where every household item is potentially a weapon that could destroy him”, we hold our breath in both anticipation and terror. Williams’ valiant struggle to avoid drowning in droplets of water, getting sucked into the vortex of a floor drain, being stepped on by his own brother’s shoe, or being eaten by a spider, are all terrifying in the distorted universe they present: Williams is truly caught in a living nightmare, with no way out. Meanwhile, we can’t help feeling enormous empathy for his growing “sense of inferiority” in the face of his loyal but “normal size” wife (Stuart), who eventually must simply assume that her pin-sized husband has died — though in reality, he’s escaped down into the basement, where the final third of the film takes place, nearly dialogue free yet relentlessly exciting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Clifford Stone’s remarkable special effects

  • A strong, provocative script:

    “The cellar stretched before me like some vast primeval plain, empty of life, littered with the relics of a vanished race. No desert island castaway ever faced so bleak a prospect.”

Must See?
Yes, as a definitive 1950s sci-fi classic.


  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    Increasingly (and interestingly) existential as it plays out, ‘TISM’ seems the product of a very sensitive and frightened young man questioning his very vulnerable place in the universe. I mean, most of us – at one time or another – see ourselves as small…but perhaps not this small. But then again…perhaps.

    Effects-wise, the film is a bit quaint by today’s standards (the single most riveting sequence comes in the unexpected staging of the mano-a-mano with the spider). But the film’s point is well taken.

    A particularly welcome sequence arrives when the protagonist gets out of the house and eventually meets with a female midget who ‘gets’ him. But even that segment reveals the writer’s sentiment that life holds no reprieve.

    One has to completely overlook the more preposterous elements here (i.e., the doctors test the guy with radioactive iodine?!; what would that be anyway?!) because peripheral aspects like that are irrelevant. The important point – I would think – is how do we feel when we are feeling our most defenseless? Who or what do we call on when all seems lost?

    And, yes…sometimes all can seem lost. So the film takes on universal dimension.

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