THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) Reviews and overview

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‘Almost beyond the imagination… A strange adventure into the unknown!’

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 American science fiction feature film directed by Jack Arnold and adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson from his novel The Shrinking Man. The plot stars Grant Williams, Randy Stuart and April Kent.

The plot was something new for Universal Pictures, which had to approve a story that did not have a neatly resolved ending. Matheson’s novel ends with the character shrinking to infinitesimal size. There is no last-minute rescue; the man keeps shrinking. In spite of these problems, Zugsmith managed to secure a $750,000 budget.

At the completion of production, studio executives wanted to change the ending to a happy one with doctors discovering a serum to reverse the shrinking process; director Arnold refused. With the successful Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and its sequels to his credit, he was able to convince the studio to agree to a preview. The test audience was startled at the film, but they liked it; the ending was not changed

In 2009, The Incredible Shrinking Man was named to the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.


Scott Carey (Grant Williams), is a businessman who is on vacation on a boat, off the California coast, with his 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) wife Louise (Randy Stuart) when he suddenly is contaminated by a radioactive cloud. At the time, Louise was below deck getting refreshments, so she wasn’t affected. Subsequently, Scott, who is 6 foot 1 inch (1.85 m) tall and weighs 190 pounds, thinks little of the cloud and doesn’t appear to have been affected by it.

However, one morning, six months later, he notices that his shirt seems too big. He blames it on the cleaners. His wedding ring falls off his finger. As this trend continues, he believes he is shrinking. At first Louise dismisses his fears as silly, but he continues to lose weight and height. Noticeably, this is shown when he looks her, previously six inches shorter than him, in the eye.


He visits a prominent research laboratory, and after numerous tests, learns that exposure to the radioactive mist and some normal pesticides caused his cells to shrink. He continues to both shrink and lose weight. His story hits the headlines and he becomes a national curiosity. He also has to give up his job and stop driving. To make ends meet, he sells his story to the national press. By this point he feels humiliated and expresses his shame and impotence by lashing out at Louise. She is reduced to tears of despair at his fate.

Then, it seems, an antidote is found for Scott’s affliction: it briefly arrests his shrinking when he is 36½ inches (93 cm) tall and weighs 52 pounds (24 kg). Despite halting his diminution, he is told that he will never return to his former size, unless a cure is found, and that the antidote will only arrest the shrinking. Still, he seems relatively content to remain at three feet tall, and begins to accept his fate.


At a circus, he briefly becomes friends with a female midget, who initially is identical in height; she is appearing in a side-show and persuades him that life isn’t all negative being their size. Although their relationship is platonic in the film, it becomes romantic in the novel. During one of Scott’s conversations with his new small friend, he suddenly notices he has become even shorter than her, meaning the antidote is not working. Exasperated, he runs away.


He continues shrinking, and eventually is reduced to living in a dollhouse. After nearly being killed by his own cat, he winds up trapped in a basement and has to battle a voracious spider, his own hunger, and the fear that he may eventually shrink down to nothing. After defeating the spider, he accepts his fate and (now so small he can escape the basement by walking through a space in a window screen) is resigned to the adventure of seeing what awaits him in even smaller realms…

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” …the special effects in this film are extraordinary. The back-projection is the probably the best I’ve seen since the opening of The Bat Whispers, and it mostly maintains that high standard throughout. The numerous matte shots are equally well-handled, comparing favorably to others of their kind even from movies made 20 years later. But most impressive of all is the forced-perspective trickery...” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

“Besides the action and suspense we’d expect, The Incredible Shrinking Man is a more intelligent story than most 1950s sci-fi pics, and the effective ending is hopeful and philosophical.” B-Movie Madness

” …a multi-layered film, its underlying theme being not so much concerned with the physical problems of a man who shrinks but with the basic psychological fears that his bizarre situation stands metaphor for, such as the fear of ceasing to exist as a separate entity – of dying, in fact – and of sexual inadequacy.” John Brosnan, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, St. Martin’s Press, 1978



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Cast and characters:

  • Grant Williams as Scott Carey
  • Randy Stuart as Louise Carey
  • April Kent as Clarice
  • Paul Langton as Charlie Carey
  • Raymond Bailey as Doctor Thomas Silver
  • William Schallert as Doctor Arthur Bramson
  • Frank J. Scannell as Barker (as Frank Scannell)
  • Helene Marshall as Nurse
  • Diana Darrin as Nurse
  • Billy Curtis as Midget
  • Orangey as Butch the cat [uncredited]

In May 7 2014, the British Labour Party aired a black and white TV election broadcast that mocked the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg for being The Un-Credible Shrinking Man in the Conservative Party dominated ‘coalition government’ cabinet. In the end, having reneged on all of his party’s policies, minuscule Clegg is terrorised by a cat, echoing the 1957 film. Under a headline “Labour declares class war with B-movie attack on Tory toffs’, the Daily Telegraph suggested that “Conservatives portrayed as upper-class fools in ‘crude’ Labour election broadcast that shows hardening of class rhetoric”

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