The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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The screen's great existential science fiction film, The Incredible Shrinking Man stars Grant Williams in the title role. While catching some rays on his brother's yacht, Scott Carey (Williams) is enveloped by a mysterious dark cloud. Soon after, he discovers that he's getting thinner -- and smaller. Despite the assuring attitude of his family doctor (the inevitable William Schallert), Scott is losing an inch's worth of height with each passing day. It is finally determined that he has developed an "anti-cancer," a by-product of a new strain of insecticide. By the time he's reached the size of a small boy, Scott has become world-famous. But the phenomenon has adversely affected his personality, turning him into a tyrant, lashing out at the world in general and his faithful wife in particular. An anti-toxin briefly halts the shrinking process, whereupon Scott joins a midget troupe, where he is briefly "accepted" for what he has become. But before long he's shrinking again, becoming so tiny that he is forced to live in a dollhouse. When Scott is attacked by his pet cat, his wife assumes that he's been killed; in fact, Scott, by now so minuscule that even a garden-variety spider poses a deadly threat to him, is hiding in his cellar. By film's end, Scott is no larger than an atom. Uncertain of what is in store for him, he steps out into the mists, summing up his newfound philosophy: "Smaller than smallest, I meant something too. To God there is no zero. I still exist!" Adapted by Richard Matheson from his own novel, The Incredible Shrinking Man is enhanced by its superb special effects.
Horror , Science Fiction & Fantasy
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MCA Universal Home Video

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Grant Williams
as Scott Carey
Randy Stuart
as Louise Carey
Paul Langton
as Charlie Carey
April Kent
as Clarice
Raymond Bailey
as Dr. Thomas Silver
William Schallert
as Dr. Arthur Bramson
Billy Curtis
as Midget
John Hiestand
as TV Newscaster
Lock Martin
as Giant (cut)
Luce Potter
as Midget
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Critic Reviews for The Incredible Shrinking Man

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (4)

Director Jack Arnold works up the chills for maximum effect by the time Williams is down to two inches and the family cat takes after him.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Top Critic

A moving, strangely pantheist assertion of what it really means to be alive. A pulp masterpiece.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Unless a viewer is addicted to freakish ironies, the unlikely spectacle of Mr. Williams losing an inch of height each

Full Review… | March 24, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

The surreal intensity of outsize objects that loom as the hero shrinks is handled effectively, and the mystical happy ending is a better payoff than one would expect of the genre.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Williams gives a sensitive portrayal of a man hounded by the media and consigned to a freak's world, whose descent into being and nothingness provides a memorable climax.

Full Review… | October 20, 2016
Radio Times

A case of tangible metamorphosis and spiritual expansion, a unique Jack Arnold mastery

Full Review… | August 29, 2015

Audience Reviews for The Incredible Shrinking Man

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!'

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

The rare sci-fi that is able to overcome its B-movie sensibilities and become an engaging drama and a study of everything from sexism and sexual frustration to a view of an American family during the Cold War years to finally end up pondering over the meaning of the universe. Heavy stuff for such a small protagonist.

Matheus Carvalho
Matheus Carvalho

Super Reviewer


Another of my favourite sci-fi movies of the fifties. This movie is great not just because of the cool special effects, the story is fantastic. At first it seems a bit silly because the idea is that he shrinks after being exposed to atomic bomb mist or something, but after that it has elements of a romantic drama, horror, and in the end really makes you think about life on Earth. I highly recommend this movie.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

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