director Jack Arnold
The second film of our impromptu Jack Arnold triple feature was The Incredible Shrinking Man, which TCM noted for us is considered Arnold’s best film. It was the one that intrigued Clara the most of the three titles. Oddly enough, as familiar as I’ve been with this film over the years, I don’t know that I’d actually ever watched it. Certainly not in its entirety.
Written by Richard Matheson from his own novel, it’s pop science fiction with a heady little spin.
When Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife are out on the sea one day, he is fatefully caught in a weird cloud of what turns out to be some form of nuclear radiation. When months later he is exposed to an insecticide, the combination of exposures triggers his body to start shrinking.
Arnold employs a number of clever camera tricks to portray Williams in various levels of decreasing size in comparison with his wife, house, and world around him. The effects are a big part of the film’s lasting appeal, creating some its most recognizable images, with Williams armed with a pin, facing off against the housecat and a tarantula. Arnold’s work on his 1955 film Tarantula helped hone these camera tricks to create such impressive imagery.
The ending of the film is a sort of anti-climax, though it’s arguably conceptually more interesting. Williams shrinks beyond microscopic size, into an atomic and subatomic world that changes all concepts of reality and self. Not surprisingly, this was a bit of a stretch for 1950’s special effects and so this change is described in voice-over and plays out with a vague abruptness. It actually disappointed Clara quite a bit, who had enjoyed the film considerably up to that point. I agree that as dramatic denouement it is a tad low key. And since the visuals don’t really communicate it, it’s a little vague. But I think conceptually it’s quite interesting, moving from a story of such literal, physical challenges in our known world to something utterly abstract…that’s pretty interesting.
I’m still partial to It Came from Outer Space (1953) (which would turn out to be our final film of our triple feature too) as my favorite of Arnold’s films, but The Incredible Shrinking Man is good stuff all the way around.