Not to be confused with the 1981 movie 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman' which was a spin on the original novel The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson. Or the horror movie 'The Incredible Melting Man' (1977), which is completely different and umm...sounds kinda the same, never mind.
Jack Arnold does it again with his fourth classic fantasy movie, this guy was like the Spielberg of the 50's...kinda. Now the plot here may sound ridiculous, like some corny TV series, hell look at that title. And to a degree you'd be right, this is a totally daft premise, who in their right mind would watch a movie about some guy becoming the size of a small insect, like...say an ant...oh wait.
Whilst out sailing on the seas with his wife, Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is unfortunately hit in the face by a mysterious white cloud that leaves his body covered in some shiny substance. Naturally this cloud and substance was radioactive being a 1950's American sci-fi movie, but we never find out where it came from and what caused it. To make matters worse, the seriously unlucky Carey also gets accidentally covered in insecticide months later which apparently sets of a reaction in his body (with the radiation) where by his molecular structure is rearranged causing his cells to shrink his body? Beats the snot outta me but its sounds scientific doesn't it, in other words he starts to shrink and it can't be stopped.
At first we spend a lot of time following Carey around as he gets tested by a typical professor type in a white lab coat. There is a lot of dialog and discussion between the characters about what's going on, what may happen and how they can try to stop it, sounds dull but its quite interesting and all very charming. The fun starts as we slowly start to see Carey get smaller bit by bit. This is where the brilliant use of oversized props is used to give the illusion Carey is actually getting smaller.
Now this being a black and white movie from the 50's you could be forgiven for thinking this movie would be extremely hokey. But guess what? this movie isn't hokey at all, well...not as bad as you would think, its still cheesy of course. First up the effects, the movie is of course all about the effects, and they look fantastic. Arnold and co use all the old tricks in the book with the use of rear projection, props, split screen and models. The striking thing is the oversized props for everyday common objects (large and small) are fabulously recreated. Initial things like a chair, phone, sofa, even windows, skirting boards and sockets, everything has been resized to give the illusion Carey is around the height of a small child (3ft-ish). Funny thing is, this simple illusion really works and its actually hard to visualise the character as a fully grown man, the resized props really sell the trick.
As Carey gets smaller things become even more exciting, I found myself really looking forward to what might happen next, what we will see and how small he gets. Of course when he starts living out of a dolls house, well that's when the hokey looking rear projection pops up, the cat attacks him, people walking past him, the spider in the basement, water etc...Speaking of the spider, that has to be the biggest and most eagerly awaited fear, I've never seen this movie before, but I just knew there would be a spider confrontation in the basement, what else would there be? Strangely enough it turns out to be a tarantula again, where exactly in America do these people live that tarantulas are commonly found in and around the house? Of course its obviously because tarantulas can be relatively easily controlled, probably much harder or nigh on impossible with an actual house spider (or black widow as in the original novel, bit dangerous probably).
Once Carey is trapped within the basement (after fleeing the cat), the movie virtually becomes a silent picture. As there is no one for Carey to communicate with, there is no dialog, apart from the odd bit of narration. What you see is the eternal struggle for survival by a regular human being, as if he was lost in the wilderness or a distant barren planet. Arnold conveys this idea perfectly through simple visuals, simple (but wonderfully detailed) props, and mundane simple tasks for the main character (acted out very well by Williams I might add). Basically he needs to eat, drink and sleep, so he finds an old matchbox to sleep in, he drinks from drips of water coming from the water heater, and he finds food from a mouse trap and an old piece of cake (I think it was). He's only in his own basement, but to Carey, at his size, its an inhospitable and dangerous world.
This movie was extremely ambitious for its day and it shows in almost every scene with an effect. Even by today's high levels of special effects this movie still stands up well, incredibly well. The models are all purely awesome in every way, I was stunned at how good they all looked, especially the large mousetrap and scissors. The optical illusions to make Williams look shorter are simple yet highly effective even today, the large props work so perfectly. Yet despite the outlandish nature of the plot the film never seems dumb, sure its cheesy and hokey but that's down to the era the movie was made in. The whole thing comes across in an intelligent and pleasant manner whilst dealing with themes like exploitation, gender role reversal and morality (loved the sombre yet intriguing ending).
Technical limitations of the day? you wouldn't think it, a fantastic piece of science fiction fantasy that has every element to engage you from start to finish. A classy B-movie adventure of epic proportions.
'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!'