So, the great horror/sci-fi/fantasy/ author Richard Matheson passed away last Sunday and I’ll have to admit that I hadn’t thought much about him lately until a few months back when on of Jack Arnold’s best films popped up on TCM at an ungodly hour and I sat glued to the TV once more with a fine bit of top shelf “B” movie bliss . I hadn’t seen The Incredible Shrinking Man in a few years, so I was glad to stop the clock on the work I was doing and spend a little time catching up with a few old friends.
Matheson and an uncredited Richard Alan Simmons wrote the film (from Matheson’s own novel The Shrinking Man) and unlike a lot of 50’s sci-fi featuring gigantic radioactive mutated versions of normal creatures, it’s lead character Robert Scott Carey (a great performance by Grant Williams) who gets scaled down in size after his radiation exposure. I recall the novel was even darker in tone and had some scenes that certainly wouldn’t fly past the censors of the era, but I’ll let the readers in the crowd find all that out on their own time.
That the bulk of the film takes place inside the home Carey shares with his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) makes the film an even more personal struggle for the couple as Robert’s condition worsens. However, there’s a short period where his condition is slowed by medical treatment and it seems as if he’ll be able to live “normally”as a man of about three feet or so tall. The film doesn’t go heavy-handed on the obvious marital issues our hero’s atomic shrinkage have obviously caused, but you know the moment that his wedding ring falls off in an early scene that this is going to be one unhappy couple.
When Carey takes off from his self-imposed confinement and while out on a walk, meets a female dwarf (April Kent), it seems that there’s a ray of light coming for the poor man in the form a friendship and/or potential new mate. Naturally that ray is itself melted as the treatment wears off and it’s off to the dollhouse where one of the classic sci-fi battles is fought when Carey has to fight for his life against the family cat. So much for pets recognizing their owners, huh? That battle and its resulting carnage to the dollhouse convinces Louise that her man is dead when he’s actually now trapped in the cellar with no means of getting upstairs or getting her attention.
As the sets grow larger, so do the perils of death from a now truck-sized spider and starvation from there being no food in the basement save for a chunk of old cake that has Carey devising tools out of common items in order to reach his prize. This leads to more great effects work and another classic confrontation that’s suspenseful because Arnold spaces it into a few sequences all revolving around getting to that much-needed food supply. This leads to the finale which is both stirring and sad for a few reasons and a “B” movie that’s well worth checking out.
Interestingly enough, Matheson planned to write a sequel that had Louise shrink down and enter the strange atomic space Richard ends up in in order to save him (!), but that story was never filmed. It showed up in 2006 as one of three scripts in Unrealized Dreams, a great book if you’re a fan of Matheson’s work or like reading through scripts as a hobby (What? SOME people like that stuff!). Anyway, check this one out with Bert I. Gordon’s awesomely awful The Amazing Colossal Man for a nice counterpoint and call it a night, I say.
I’ll tackle a few of Matheson’s other filmed works over the next couple of weeks – the man’s “second career” in Hollywood spanned a few decades and while the different directors filming his words made for wildly varying results, for the most part, there’s a lot of great stuff to see along with a few clunkers…