The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) - Size Does Matter!

Scripted by author Richard Matheson from his own novel, The Shrinking Man (1956), and directed by genre veteran Jack Arnold, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) is one of the enduring classics of 50’s SF cinema.

The movie is typically paranoid and of its time, but its themes have not dated and it remains of “incredible” interest to sci-fi buffs. When Scott Carey (Grant Williams) becomes contaminated after passing through a radioactive mist, he slowly begins to shrink.

It is not long before his relationship with his wife (Randy Stuart) breaks down, she patronises him and there is severe sexual anxiety as she looms ever larger above him. Soon all that is familiar about his home is lost, and his surroundings become sinister and overwhelming.

What was once safe and comforting to him become increasingly threatening as he continues to diminish. He struggles to survive in the face of ever-increasing threat - first he has to fight off the family cat and the confines of his own basement, into which he falls into, becomes a surreal jungle in which he has to battle a deadly spider for survival.

Finally, in the most poignant and moving episode of the movie, Carey escapes out into the garden, looks up at the stars and eventually shrinks into oblivion.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a profound and pessimistic exploration of society and the perceived safety of our world, its themes of unfamiliarity and lost identity are terrifying and bold.

The performances are excellent, particularly Williams, and the script is polished and well constructed. Richard Matheson's mature script is intelligently handled by Jack Arnold.

Clifford Stine's special effects were very effective for their time and are a paradigm for how these things should be done. A scene in the basement depicting giant drops of water was accomplished by filling up condoms and dropping them.

The film won the 1958 Hugo Award for Best SF Presentation and in 2009 was selected for the National Registry by the National Film Preservation Board

Carey’s final monologue –

“I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close - the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens.

The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends is man's conception, not nature's. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!”

The critics wrote –

“The trick photography and fascinating set designs steal the show.” (Picturegoer)

“It is the superlative trick photography and sensitive soundtrack that create essential atmosphere and enable its story to move and thrill in turn.” (Kine Weekly)

“Simple, ingenious, effective.” (Times)

“B-budget science-fiction and simple stuff, but with more consistency and logic than usual, and with some rather amusng trick photography.” (Pauline Kael)

“One hails a science fiction film which is both inventive and humane.” (Dilys Powell)

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Comments 20 comments

Carolyn2008 profile image

Carolyn2008 5 years ago from Boston

Excellent, excellent Hub!!


Clare-Louise profile image

Clare-Louise 5 years ago from Birmingham UK

Hi Steve I remember seeing this one as a youngster and thought it was good! Great hub!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Carolyn!

Hi Clare, the scenes with the spider gave me nightmares as a child and I still flinch when I see an arachnid. I have to call the missus to get rid of it, spiders don't bother her... but mice do, go figure. :)

Thaks for commenting.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

I have not seen this movie before, I have read about it and your review makes me want to see it even more. I will check it out and let you know what I think. As always you have produced an excellent hub. Voted up and useful.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Cogerson. I think you'll like it. One of the things I like about the film is that there isn't a last minute miracle cure to save the hero, a gutsy decision by the filmmakers and author.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Hey Steve...I love my library...I went on to their online library...typed in The Incredible Shrinking Man...and up pops up a 2 volume 6 disk 1950 Sci-Fi classic movies....one of which is Shrinking Man....since is not my local branch....they send it to my branch....and I will have the movie tomorrow afternoon.....now this is a great way to spend some tax money....and more importantly it makes me wonder what the other 5 movies will be...just thought you might find this interesting.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Hoho nice! A U.S. buddy of mine bought that DVD set Cogerson, if it's the one I'm thinking of, all great sci-fi classics. I've created hubs on most of them. Enjoy!


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

I got my 10 movie 6 disk Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection today....it looks like the only one you have done a hub on is the Incredible Shrinking Man....so which of the other nine do you suggest for viewing...

1. Tarnatula

2. The Mole People

3. Incredible Shrinking Man

4. The Monolith Monsters

5. Monster on the Campus

6. Dr. Cyclops

7. Cult of the Cobra

8. The Land Unknown

9. The Deadly Mantis

10. The Leech Woman


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Well that's not the one I was thinking of, here is that set -

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Classic-Sci-Fi-Collection-...

I thought that was available in the US? All genuine classics in that one and I've done hubs on 4 of them.

From your list I'd recommend Dr. Cyclops which had some interesting effects similar to Shrinking Man but in glorious technicolor. Tarantula and Deadly Mantis are fun monster movies and The Monolith Monsters had some good reviews and was different from the usual SF fare of the time. I haven't seen Mole People in ages. A good selection of creature features.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Just finished watching The Incredible Shrinking Man....pretty good movie...I think Grant Marshall's performance was holding the movie back....the movie did get the attention of my 4 year old girl and 18 year old college student.......since ever movie I watch I put in my database....here are the scores.....Incredible Shrinking Man was #67 in box office rentals in 1957.....it sold 5.6 million tickets...which translates to 44.50 million in 2011 dollars.....audiences/critics are scoring the movie at 83%....which gives it a movie score of 37.77...I will check Dr. Cyclops next....


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Where do you find those box office rental statistics Cogerson? I find that stuff fascinating especially on smaller films like Shrinking Man. I visit Box Office Mojo but it's mostly new movies. Send me an email if you don't want to mention it here. Cheers.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

I used to collect old Variety year end reviews...they list the top films of all-time and for the year of the issue....for Shrinking Man it was in Variety January 8th 1958 Page 30.....looking at the previous year I see Forbidden Planet came in at #62...Variety January 2nd 1957 Page 4...which translates to 6.4 million tickets and a gross of 50.9 million 2011 dollars. I have ever year from 1940 to 2011....except for 1944, 1945, 1954, 1955 and 1979. Every once in awhile I see the year end reviews on E-bay going for around 20 US dollars..


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

I see. Thanks for the info on Forbidden Planet, how well did War of the Worlds do in 1953 if you don't mind checking for me?

Maybe you can do a year by year top 50 hub one day? Random years with movie scores. It will be fascinating! :)


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Let's see....War of the Worlds comes in at #60 for the year.. 2 million in rentals....with 4.4 million in dollars at the box office....which means 7.3 million tickets sold.....which translates to 58 million in 2011 US dollars......I have been thinking about doing something like that ...there are lots of sites that have some information...but they never seem to go more that than 10 or 20 movies.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks. I know those end of year Variety's are a great source of info. I was collecting them too, in the late 70's to early 80's. I've got one of your missing years, 1979.

If you want I can try scanning the box office pages for you but the paper has yellow'd and won't come out good. I can type down the top 50 or 100 rentals. Let me know.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

That would be cool....actually the ones I am interested in are the ones that have less than 4 million in rentals....once they cross 4 million they go on the all-time chart they published each year....when they fail to reach 4 million in rentals...Variety never publishes the numbers again.....for some unknown reason I have been trying to find a more accurate box office number for Beyond the Posiedon Adventure...the classic Michael Caine clunker....it came out in 1979 and earned less than 4 million in rentals....so the information is in the Jan 80 Variety


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

I've had a look and I've got Variety's 1976 to 1988, more than I expected. I used to buy Variety for the reviews as well as the box office. But it became too expensive buying the weekly issues imported here and I stopped.

I'll take a look at the 1979 Jan 80 issue tomorrow and send you an email. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure should be listed, someone must have seen it at the cinema surely? :)


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

It would be appreciated....it is in the Weekly Variety Jan 09 1980.....any other movies you want info for just let me know....


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Hey this last weekend during a cookout.....my mom and son got to talking about things that shrink.....my mom then said "Like in that movie with the man getting shrunk....where he fought the cat and the spider"...my 18 year old son responded "The Incredible Shrinking Man....my dad and I watched it a couple of weeks ago"....and then my dad said...."That was the one with Grant Williams"........and I was thinking the power of hub pages.....lol....pretty amazing that two months ago I was not really aware of the movie and then three generations of my family are discussing it during a cookout a few weeks later...Just thought I would share


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Hoho thanks for sharing. I'm just glad there's a few people around here willing to read my hubs. Cheers!

Unexpectedly this hub is getting more views than some of my hubs of more popular films. I think it's because I added the phrase "Size Does Matter" to the title. Three magic words, gets people looking. :)

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