The Incredible Shrinking Man
Cast & Crew
Robert Scott Carey is enjoying a boating vacation with his wife Louise when a strange mist suddenly engulfs him, covering him with a sparkling powder. Six months later, Scott notices that his clothes are too big, and visits Dr. Arthur Bramson to figure out why he has shrunk two inches. Although Bramson is quick to allay Scott's fears, he cannot explain why Scott continues to shrink over the next few weeks, and sends him to the California Medical Research Institute for extensive tests. Finally, one analysis reveals the presence of an unusual chemical in Scott's body that has rearranged his cell's molecular structure, causing him to shrink in perfect proportion. Dr. Thomas Silver, a scientist at the institute, deduces that the problem was caused by a combination of exposure to insecticide and radioactivity, prompting Scott to realize that the mist that enveloped him on the boat must have been atomic. Outside, a despairing Scott assures Louise that he does not expect her to stay with him, and although she declares that as long as he wears his wedding ring, she will be his wife, the ring slips off his shrinking finger soon after. Within weeks, Scott has shrunk to a height of three feet, and his only hope for earning money lies in selling his story to the media. Word of his malady spreads throughout the world, and soon reporters and curious onlookers surround Scott's home. Mobs crowd the front door and tie up the phone line, causing Scott to grow angry and bitter and Louise to cry with helplessness. One day, Scott is writing about his frustration in his journal when Dr. Silver calls to inform him that an anti-toxin has been developed. The serum succeeds in halting Scott's attenuation, but it cannot help him return to his normal height. Filled with shame and sadness, he wanders into a carnival where midgets are being paraded as freaks, and stops for a drink at a café. There, he is joined by midget Clarice Bruce, who assures Scott that little people can lead full lives. Their encounter encourages Scott, who begins work on his autobiography. One day, however, he notices that he is suddenly shorter than Clarice, and realizing that he has begun shrinking again, runs home in horror. Weeks later, he is only inches high, and must live in a dollhouse. Scott's fears cause him to treat Louise tyrannically, and one day when she goes out, she is so rattled that she accidentally allows the cat to creep into the house. The cat pursues Scott as if he is a mouse, slashing him with a claw and forcing him to run behind the basement door. Although Scott tries to shut the door against the beast, the cat pushes the door open, hurtling him into a sewing basket at the foot of the stairs. When Louise returns, she sees the cat, finds Scott's bloody shirt and, anguished, assumes Scott is dead. Meanwhile, he regains consciousness and stacks thimbles, creating a ladder to climb out of the box. Realizing that the stairs are too mountainous to scale and that he must find a way to survive until Louise comes for him, Scott drinks from a dripping pipe, creates a bed in an empty matchbox, and searches for food. At one point, Scott finds cheese in a mousetrap, but when he springs the trap, the cheese catapults through the floor grate. Scott's hunger speeds the shrinking process, and now the size of a spool of thread, he spots a piece of bread on what seems like an impossibly high ledge. Using thread and a bent needle as a grappling hook, he scrambles up to the ledge, nearly falling into a paint box along the way. Scott is elated at his success, and even after a mesh window to the outdoors reminds him that he is trapped in a prison of sorts, he vows to dominate his environment. As soon as he brings pieces of bread back to his matchbox, however, a massive spider pursues him, and he realizes that he is now prey. Upstairs, Scott's brother Charlie has convinced Louise to leave the house and put her anguish behind her, but just before they depart, the basement floods. Scott clings to a nail on a stair, but is so little that Charlie and Louise cannot hear him as he shouts for them, even when they are standing directly above him, unclogging the drain. Scott grabs onto a pencil that prevents him from being swirled down the drain, but is powerless to stop Louise from leaving the house. Slightly crazed, he determines to kill his main foe, the spider, and to that end climbs back onto the ledge. Armed with a needle, he attracts its attention, and as the spider moves to devour him, Scott stabs it to death. Now shrinking almost to nothingness, Scott climbs through the grate to the outdoors and stands in the yard contemplating the sky, no longer sure if he is human. Suddenly, he is struck with an understanding of the universe and his place in it, and as he melts away into infinity, his fears likewise dissolve with the realization that no matter how small he is, he will always exist.
Tamara, A Spider
Joe La Barba
Everett H. Broussard
Leslie I. Carey
Ellis W. Carter
Russell A. Gausman
Roswell A. Hoffman
Ruby R. Levitt
Jay A. Morley Jr.
Joan St. Oegger
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Science fiction and horror novelist Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend, Hell House and other works that were later made into films, had never written a screenplay until he was approached by producer Albert Zugsmith to adapt his novel The Shrinking Man for the screen. According to the writer in an interview with Tom Weaver (for Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes, McFarland Classics), he first had to restructure the narrative: "They couldn't do Last Year in Marienbad  back then; the story had to be in chronological order, to begin at the beginning and progress from there...I wrote it that way in my novel originally but it got tedious, so I decided I would structure it the way I had structured I Am Legend [the basis for both The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971)]: start smack-dab in the middle and then, in flashbacks, bring the story up to date." Matheson, however, was forced to write the screenplay for The Incredible Shrinking Man as a linear narrative and scenarist Richard Alan Simmons was later brought in for rewrites.
Jack Arnold, the director of The Incredible Shrinking Man, was not the sort of studio craftsman critics singled out for recognition at the time even though he had helmed such popular fantasy films as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Tarantula (1955). Yet, despite the title, The Incredible Shrinking Man was not your typical low-budget production. Technicians labored for eight months on the special effects photography alone and during the seven weeks of pre-production shooting, the set was closed to all but the essential cast and crew. Not all of the scenes involving the diminutive Scott required special effects. Giant props such as a twelve-foot-long sewing needle or a gigantic mousetrap were constructed for key scenes.
Arnold's depiction of the sexual disintegration of the Carey's marriage is rendered through a series of subtle but surreal moments which accent the couple's increasing alienation. And it leads to one of the film's most memorable scenes which was often cut from television showings - Scott's chance meeting with a midget showgirl at a diner (a scene which fades out with the certainty that they will have an affair). Since Grant Williams was six-foot-one, Arnold couldn't convincingly use a real midget to play the carnival worker so he filmed the two actors against oversized furniture. In an interview with Bill Kelley for Cinefantastique, he recalled, "I used real midgets in the scene in the barroom. They were projected from behind onto a process screen, while the couple was seated in a booth and the midget walked up to say the girl was wanted at the circus. In the park scene, I had an oversized bench and sprinkler. It was easier doing that than using split screen with a real midget and Grant Williams."
Equally challenging was Scott's battle with the giant spider which involved the use of a trained tarantula, one which had previously been the star of Arnold's Tarantula and went by the name of "Tamara." On the day screenwriter Matheson visited the set, he recalled "they shot the flood scene, with the giant pencil and the water heater breaking.....Poor Grant Williams, that guy looked beat! He nearly killed himself; he was almost blinded by an arc light, he was nearly electrocuted, he was half-drowned...! Boy, did he work hard!" (from Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver).
One of the more amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes occurred during the water heater sequence, according to Arnold in the Cinefantastique interview: "He's now about an inch and a half or two inches tall, and he makes his home in an empty match box. The match box is under a heater, and the heater begins to leak. I was confronted with the problem of getting drops to fall in proportion to the size of the man. We tried everything, but no matter how we spilled the water, it didn't look like an oversized drop. Then I remembered how in my ill-spent youth I found some strange rubber objects in my father's drawer, and not knowing what they were, I filled them with water, took them to the top of the building where we lived in New York, and dropped them over the side. I recalled that they looked great when they hit, and that they held a tear shape. So I asked the crew, "Has anyone got a condom on him?" With much reluctance, one of the guys finally confessed that he had one. We filled it with water, tied it at the top, and dropped it. It had a tear shape, exactly in the right proportion, and it splattered on impact. So we ordered about 100 gross of them. I put them on a treadmill and let them drop until the water pipe was supposed to burst, and it was very effective. At the end of the picture, I was called to the production office. They were going over all my expenses and they came across this item of 100 gross of condoms, so they asked me, "What the hell is that for?" I simply said, "Well, it was a very tough picture, so I gave a cast party." And that was all I told them."
[SPOILER ALERT] For anyone who has seen The Incredible Shrinking Man, the last scene where Scott accepts his inevitable absorption into a microscopic universe is a haunting and indelible image. With his final words, Scott says:
"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!"
This was not the ending the studio had in mind and Arnold stated in his interview with Bill Kelley that it was "the only fight I had with them on The Incredible Shrinking Man, and I won it. They wanted a happy ending. They wanted him to suddenly start to grow again, and I said "Over my dead body." So they said, "Well, let's test your ending." And at the previews it went over so well, they agreed it was best to keep it. But I had something of a to-do with them at first, and I had to explain that this was not a film suited to a happy ending."
Richard Matheson, for one, was also not particularly happy with the quasi-religious slant of Scott's final narration which was written by Jack Arnold. In fact, he dismissed the entire picture as a disappointment at first. "I have a tendency always to have in my mind an image of what a picture should be, and of course the picture almost never matches the image," he confessed (in Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes, McFarland Classics). "Sometimes it takes me a long time before I look at it for what it is. The Incredible Shrinking Man, it took me forever! My son Richard finally got me to come around by pointing out to me how unusual it was for that time and how wonderfully visual it was." Universal actually convinced Matheson to write a sequel to the film entitled The Fantastic Little Girl in which Scott's wife joins her husband in his miniature world but it was never made. Later, Joel Schumacher directed Lily Tomlin in a comic parody of the original, The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), and Universal is still considering another remake; as recently as 2004 Eddie Murphy and director Keenan Ivory Wayans were rumored to be possible participants.
Whether it's destined to be remade or not, it's hard to imagine anyone surpassing the 1957 version. Movie critic Geoff Andrew said it best in the TimeOut Film Guide: "Not merely the best of Arnold's classic sci-fi movies of the '50s, but one of the finest films ever made in that genre....to the strains of Joseph Gershenson's impressive score, we arrive at the film's philosophical core: a moving, strangely pantheist assertion of what it really means to be alive. A pulp masterpiece."
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editing: Albrecht Joseph
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Foster Carling, Earl E. Lawrence
Cast: Grant Williams (Scott Carey), Randy Stuart (Louise Carey), April Kent (Clarice), Paul Langton (Charles Carey), Raymond Bailey (Dr. Thomas Silver), William Schallert (Dr. Arthur Bramson).
by Jeff Stafford
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
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!- Scott Carey
Orson Welles did the narration for the trailer for this film. He was at Universal working on Touch of Evil (1958)
The special effects technicians were able to create giant drops of water by filling up condoms and dropping them.
The film ends with a lengthy voice-over narration in which Grant Williams, as his character, "Robert Scott Carey," discusses his acceptance of life as having no finite end, and his hope that perhaps other beings will follow him into his new, microcosmic world. According to a March 1956 Los Angeles Times article, Dan O'Herlihy was considered to play the role of Scott. Studio press materials note that "Tamara," the spider used in the film, was one of the only tarantulas ever trained, and was also seen as the title character in the 1955 Universal film Tarantula (see below). According to a May 1956 Hollywood Reporter item, portions of the film were shot on location in Lake Arrowhead, CA.
The following production information was reported in studio press materials: Universal's technicians worked for eight months prior to filming to develop a "revolutionary film process" for photographing the picture's special effects, and the production was put on hold twice during that time. During the seven weeks of pre-production shooting and another twelve weeks of special photography, the set remained closed to anyone not directly connected to the production, and all cast and crew members were required to carry special passes to gain access. Some of the scenes in which Scott is only inches high were shot without special photography, by using giant props, such as the twelve-foot-long sewing pin that Scott uses to kill the spider. Although press materials note that a sequel was considered, in which Scott would shrink further, eventually exploring the "sub-microscopic" world, that film was never made. Modern sources add the following names to the crew cerdits: Screenplay Richard Alan Simmons and Special Effects Fred Knoth, Tom McCrory and Jack Tait.
Despite some poor reviews at the time of its release, The Incredible Shrinking Man is often referred to by modern critics as one of the best science-fiction films ever made. Many scholars see in it both an allegory for fears of the atomic age, and an expression of 1950s males' concerns over female empowerment. Universal made a comedic version of this film in 1981, entitled The Incredible Shrinking Woman, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Lily Tomlin and Charles Grodin. In 2003, Universal announced a remake of the film, to be directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and star Eddie Murphy.
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States on Video May 5, 1988
Released in United States Spring April 1957
Re-released in United States May 16, 1997
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States Spring April 1957
Released in United States on Video May 5, 1988
Re-released in United States May 16, 1997 (Anthology Film Archives; New York City)