Monday, October 24, 2011
The Incredible Shrinking Man!
This Universal classic is one of those movies I've seen so many times that I forget to really watch it. This time however, it had been long enough since I'd seen it last to make the experience somewhat fresh. I was most impressed.
The first thing most folks will point to in this movie is the special effects, and they are impressive. The out-sized props are wonderful to see as Scott Carey continues to diminish and world becomes more and more alien and dangerous to him. But what really struck me this time was the psychology of the man himself.
Scott Carey as played by Grant Williams is a happily married man who while on holiday comes into contact with a mysterious mist which turns out to radioactive. Many months later contact with a pesticide triggers a transformation in him and he begins to grow smaller and smaller. Doctors are able to stabilize him for a short time, but eventually his shrinking results in him becoming a six inch man living in doll house on his living room floor. A moment's carelessness and he is assaulted by the family cat and sent flying into the basement. Thought dead, he is left alone in the basement universe to fend for himself and how he copes with those challenges are what showcase the film's greatest moments.
Carey's mental state wears down as his body gives way on him. And the comparison to less exotic diseases is easy to make. When Carey becomes approximately the size of a small human, that is when the movie makes its few mistakes. The use of a normal-sized human being to pretend to be the midget Clarice (April Kent) and potential (momentary) love interest for Carey has always fallen on its face for me. The movie is reasonably tough in many of its presentations, but fails here to deal head on with the very theme it purports to explore.
On a brighter note, I was really impressed this time with Louise Carey played by Randy Stuart. Her dedication to her husband, despite his self-admitted tyranny over her is remarkable. I've heard the cliche that two people "grow apart" too much to take it seriously, or as little other than an excuse. But in this film, it is literally the case, and it's tragic to watch.
Carey's slow and steady coming to terms with his destiny is what elevates this movie. It becomes in its final sequences a truly transcendent heroic saga, and he becomes a creature unlike us, yet so similar that we feel what he feels as he melts into the very landscape around. His ego is literally obliterated as he becomes part of the larger world.
Good stuff, and Richard Matheson's script is well up to the challenge. And Jack Arnold's direction is efficient and effective. This is a subtle movie about serious stuff, but sadly it gets tossed in with other less serious efforts all the time. It's as good as they get.