The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi Horror  |   Run Time - 81 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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The notion of a man who shrinks to the size of a ChapStick and finds himself hunted by his own pet cat would seem to be the height of comic absurdity, but screenwriter Richard Matheson and director Jack Arnold had the good sense not to play it as a traditional horror/sci-fi story. Instead, The Incredible Shrinking Man emphasizes the psychological side of the character's dilemma alongside his obvious physical problems; Scott Carey (Grant Williams, in the best and best-known performance of a sadly misbegotten career) finds his view of himself and the world radically challenged by his extreme reaction to a radioactive cloud. As Scott slowly begins to shrink, he first loses touch with his masculinity as he begins to look more like his wife's son than her husband, and then begins to question his humanity, as his home turns into a horrific netherworld and he's eventually reduced to the size of a molecule. Director Arnold and his special effects crew do fine work, making Scott's situation look as realistic as possible given the circumstances, and they turn his struggle to emerge from the basement into an adventure to reckon with. But it's Matheson's perceptive script that sets the film apart; plenty of monster movies had an ordinary guy turn into an unrecognizable creature, but few faced the psychological and even theological implications of a man transformed into something unknowable. The result was the most intelligent movie of the 1950s "atomic mutation" cycle, and, along with Them!, the one that has best stood the test of time.