Monday, 21 November 2011

‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ (1957)

I’m quite handy in terms of getting books read but there are literally dozens of DVDs on my shelves that I buy, or receive as gifts, and somehow never get round to watching. The reason behind this is incredibly simple... None of my own DVDs feature any musical numbers and the smallest member of the household absolutely insists on musical viewing otherwise she will turn the television off (we pretty much had to give up on an afternoon viewing of ‘Boston Legal’ the other day’). I really need to find a copy of ‘Repo!’ don’t I...?

Every now and then now (usually after about half seven or eight in the evening), Sue and I get the chance to wrest back control of our own TV and watch something that doesn’t involve dancing and stupid songs (I’m really growing to hate ‘Guys and Dolls’...) We could end up watching anything really and last week it was ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’. It really was a random choice (made with comments along the lines of “it’s a film from the fifties, it’s got to be good for a laugh”) but by the time the end came round neither of us could look away from the screen. The film was so good, in fact, that I went out and bought the book not long afterwards. Check it out, seriously...

An unfortunate turn of events (accidentally dosed with radiation and then accidentally sprayed with insecticide, could happen to anyone) leads Scott Carey to suddenly begin to shrink and no-one knows how to return him to his normal size. As Scott grows smaller his problems only grow bigger as he goes from being a national curiosity to being forced out of his doll’s house home when he is attacked by his own cat. It’s in the cellar though where things suddenly become a matter of life and death. A leaking boiler becomes a raging flood and Scott’s only source of food lies directly under the home of a deadly spider. And Scott is still shrinking...

So, not only a film that I watched the hell out of but a film that prompted me to visit ‘Amazon New & Used’ the following day and pick up the book. Thanks to the Richard Matheson connection, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ may have also nudged me in the direction of re-reading ‘I Am Legend’. Was the film really that good? Yes, yes it was.

Suspend your disbelief and you’ll soon find yourself safely past the slightly vague science behind Scott’s shrinking (to be fair, it was the fifties and radiation could safely be blamed for most things) and into the exploration of how one man fares having everything he holds dear stripped away from him. As his condition progresses, Scott must increasingly rely on his wife to take care of everything for him; a role reversal that almost goes unnoticed but is important nevertheless. Scott is under real pressure here anyway but his complete loss of control can only make things worse and we see Scott gradually become more morose and domineering as a result. Grant Williams’ portrayal of Scott Carey is a little wooden to start off with but cracks in his character hints at rage and despair and I ended up wondering if Williams was as wooden as I’d thought. Williams is actually showing us just how an ordinary man (fully in control of his life) can crack under the pressures of a completely inexplicable event.

The beauty though is that Carey doesn’t crack. Events end up moving far too quickly for this to happen as Carey must suddenly fight to survive in a world that is far too big for him. Events in the cellar are genuinely nerve wracking and the scenes with the spider make for compulsive viewing, absolutely superb stuff.

All credit to the film for not taking the easy way out at the end (don’t want to say too much here for fear of spoilers) and even more credit is due for somehow injecting a note of optimism into a situation that is hopeless for Carey. You’re left with a real sense that Carey’s story hasn’t ended, even though the film has, and it’s hard not to feel a little excited about the journey that awaits him off-screen.

All in all then, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ made for a great way to spend an hour and a bit. Now I need to get on and read the book...

1 comment:

Matthew Bradley said...

It's always good to see that THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN is still entertaining and intriguing new viewers after more than half a century. It was Matheson's first screenplay and arguably remains one of his best. The unusual ending that you commented on is one of the reasons it has stood the test of time so well; ditto the special effects that, while variable, often remain impressive even in the CGI era.

When you read the novel, you'll see that the film adheres to it pretty closely, although Universal insisted that Matheson substitute a more traditional chronological structure in his script. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (