The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/10/15
Cast: Grant Williams

The moral of the story is "get your own damn beer!"

When Steve Carey (Grant Williams) orders his wife to bring him a beer, he passes through a mysterious radioactive mist that causes him to start shrinking. Doctors are helpless to cure his condition, and Steve starts losing his mind trying to cope with the changes in his body. His private life is overrun by reporters and curiosity seekers, and the strain on his faithful and supportive wife puts his marriage in jeopardy. Steve experiences a brief respite from his misery when he meets a midget woman from a carnival that he can share his angst with, but he sabotages their friendship when he shrinks beyond her height. By the time he's only six inches tall, an accident with the family cat leaves him trapped in the basement and presumed dead. From here on out, Steve's life becomes a fight for survival, as he is now truly alone and helpless. The film culminates into a deadly showdown with a large spider, proving Steve's superiority before he finally shrinks into nothingness.

The main draw of the film is that it's a special effects showcase, employing some excellent trick photography and state of the art optical printing effects. While some of it doesn't hold up very well by today's standards, you can't deny the skill and craft that went into making the film. Some of the more impressive scenes are shot practically, using enormous sets and giant-sized props. The cast is very small, and the entire last hour of the film boils down to a one-man play as Steve ponders his basement prison and the ever present threat of the spider on the shelf. The majority of the film is narrated by Steve, which paints a detailed picture of the fear, doubt, frustration, and emasculation that he's experiencing. The first half hour is overly melodramatic and Steve's angst and self-loathing becomes increasingly annoying, but after the cat incident, the film becomes tense and riveting. At that point, Steve has much more important things to do than complain and mope, as he needs to secure food, water, shelter, clothing, and protection. He finally accepts his fate and self preservation kicks in. The final battle against the spider is genuinely terrifying and well executed, although the poor spider didn't fare so well. It's a sad reminder that animal cruelty used to be commonplace in film. Unfortunately, the spider continuity is distracting as several different spiders are used, and the scientific inaccuracies are disappointing. The spider is clearly a tarantula, but it unconvincingly lives in a fabricated orb weaver's web. But if you can look past that, it effectively boils down to a primitive life-and-death struggle between two alpha creatures over territorial control. One of them has to die in order for the other to live.

It's one of the more thought provoking science fiction films to come out of the 1950's, and is definitely considered a classic. It's an excellent example of atomic age fear and paranoia, but it also highlights the achievements and benefits of modern science. Its contemplative nature brings a metaphysical element to the story, as Steve tries to reconcile the roles of science and religion in our meaningless lives. Even though the science is hokey, it's worth checking out if you appreciate smart science fiction.