The Incredible Shrinking Man
Starring: Grant Williams [woo-hooo!], Randy Stuart, April Kent
Writer: Richard Matheson [yay!]
Director: Jack Arnold
Blurb [IMDB]: When Scott Carey begins to shrink because of exposure to a combination of radiation and insecticide, medical science is powerless to help him.
Scene 01: We open on the surf and a gray day at the ocean before transitioning farther out where we espy a boat bobbing on the water as gulls glide around. A voiceover tells us that the day was to prove to be a strange and almost unbelievable series of events. He introduces himself as Robert Scott Carey, but everyone will call him Scott.
He’s currently sunning himself on the bow of his cruiser with a female companion. His companion is Louise, and we’ll find through cute banter that they’ve been married for six years. Scott lets us know through exposition that they’re currently on vacation. He heavily hints to his wife that she should get him a cold beer, which she refuses to do because a) he can get it himself and b) she’s on vacation all week, too. It’s cutesy.
They reach a compromise where Louise will go to the galley for his beer and later he’ll handle fixing dinner for her.
As Louise goes below decks, a startling fog rolls across the ocean’s surface in their direction.
Scene 02: Scott watches as the fast moving mist races toward him and the pleasure boat.
He backs away nervously and then attempts to join his wife in the galley but he can’t quite move fast enough. The sparkly fog surrounds him as he nervously negotiates along the side of the boat.
Louise returns from below just as the mist has raced over them and headed off. Scott is left with sparkly bits of something on him.
Scene 03: A voiceover from Scott informs us that six months later, another ordinary day would be interrupted.
Louise greets the milkman and spends a few moments giving the Carey kitty a bowl before returning to the house.
Scene 04: In the kitchen she fetches orange juice and walks out to the dining room. She shouts upstairs for her husband and goes on with preparing breakfast. Moments later and her husband shouts down to her wondering if she’s sure that she got the right pants back from the cleaners.
Scene 05: She joins her husband in the bedroom, to find him looking at himself in the mirror in a pair of pants that are fitting loosely and dragging a bit on the floor. He complains about their cleaners doing something different, but Louise suggests that he’s just lost some weight and it’s very becoming, so he should stop complaining. She leaves for the dining room again to prepare his plate, leaving Scott to discover that it’s not only his pants that aren’t fitting correctly, but also his dress shirt.
Scene 06: In the dining room, Scott brings up the not fitting shirt but Louise is still convinced that he’s shed a few pounds and should be happy about it. Meanwhile, Scott is bothered by the fact that his sleeves are a bit too long, too.
He asks his wife to pick up a bathroom scale that day.
Scene 07: Later, Scott is with his family physician. His doctor reports his height as 5’11 despite Scott insisting that he’s been 6’1” since high school. Scott also reports that he’s lost 10 lbs.
The doctor isn’t very comforting. He tells Scott that he hasn’t had many exams since his teen years and goes on to say that his weight loss is probably due to work stress and his report of height loss can be explained by his standing more erect when he was younger, along with early morning exams… during the day, apparently, gravity compresses weight along the spine and causes us to measure out less in height. Scott doubts that both together could account for 2 inches but the Doctor tells him not to worry about anything, as all of his labs are pointing to him being in excellent health. The doctor points out that people just don’t get shorter.
Scene 08: That night in his bedroom, he notices that his bathrobe isn’t fitting now, either. Louise engages him in conversation about his work that day, but he’s distracted. He hurries to the bathroom in order to weigh himself and the look on his face tells us that he’s lost more weight.
Louise notices and Scott reports that he’s lost another 4 pounds. She jokes that she’ll just have to start feeding him vitamins, cake and ice cream to fatten him up. But Scott knows that something is wrong. She suggests a doctor’s visit, but he tells her he already did that a week ago. He asks her to kiss him.
After she does, he points out to her that she used to have to stretch up to do so, but now she no longer has to bother. She suggests he’s in his work shoes, but when she looks down he’s in his flat slippers. They’re both nearing the same height.
Louise repeats the doctor’s observation that people can’t just get smaller, which is hard to argue with. Scott tells her they’ll return to the doctor to solve the mystery. He snuggles the house cat, Butch.
Scene 09: The following week at the family doctor, he’s looking over films of Scott’s x-rays. Comparing them, there can be no doubt now - a previous set of bone pictures are not lining up with the set he’d just developed.
He returns to the Careys with a look of mystification. He has to confirm that Scott has been correct, although the doctor still insists that there isn’t anything like this before that he’s aware of. He has to refer them to an Institute for advanced medicine for many more tests to find an explanation. Both Scott and Louise are left devastated and afraid of what is happening to him.
Scene 10: We get a montage of medical tests under Scott’s voiceover about spending weeks at the institute getting a battery of such tests. The scientists are able to confirm that he’s losing the amount of the building blocks for the human system, but are still working on why it’s happening.
On a paper strip test-thingy [you need somebody else to explain this test to you], they find an anomaly. Something startling….
Scene 11: Later, Head Doctor/Scientist guy gives an explanation of the finding. The doctor has found that he’s suffering a sort of anti-cancer phenomena. Instead of cells growing out of control, his are actually losing mass proportionally throughout all of his organs and bones.
The cause appears to be from a unique set of circumstances: Scott was exposed to an abnormally high concentration of insecticide a few months ago from a truck spraying trees where he was walking. The Doctor tells Scott that the insecticidal germ is still in his system where it should’ve been harmless, but he was exposed to something which has caused an unprecedented mutation in it, effecting his cell growth. He questions for radiation exposure, but Scott has never been exposed to such a thing… or so he thinks. Louise brings up the day on the boat and the mysterious fog of sparkles.
Scene 12: A bit later, Louise and Scott return to the car, in shock. He brings up their marriage and offers to her that he understands there has to be a limit on her obligations, should things continue as they are with him getting shorter and shorter.
She’s naturally appalled that he’d suggest that she won’t be there for him through whatever may be happening. She offers that as long as he’s got his wedding ring on, he’s got her.
It doesn’t take long for him to reach down for the gear shift and have the ring slip right off of his finger. They both share a stare of fear with one another.
Commentary: Wow, I just realized that I’ve not been providing any scene commentary! I’m really sorry, but there hasn’t been much to discuss here. We’re setting things up nicely, of course, but this sci-fi film is really a combination of the special effects and the philosophical thoughts that Scott will have as he continues to shrink. But we’ve not reached the point yet where he’s pondering his role in the universe or why all of this has happened to him.
I can say that Grant is of course wonderful in this role [this is the role that kick started my imaginary, time-traveling love affair with him which was then enhanced by The Monolith Monsters], being charming and handsome and nicely emotional throughout Scott’s plight. The only thing I’ll dock him for, is the voiceover work thus far. It tends to be low-key enough to border emotionless droning, which is a problem.
As to Randy Stuart - she’s also handling her role quite well with warmth and touches of humor that make her charming, as well.
Scene 13: Sometime later, Louise and Scott’s comfortable life has continue to degrade. Scott’s brother and boss has stopped by to tell him that he has to let him go due to losing a large account recently causing the agency to take a huge financial hit.
But it’s worse than that. Reporters have also been hanging around the office building and asking questions about Scott’s condition. It appears that someone at the medical center has blabbed about this incredible circumstance. Charlie tells his brother that the newsmen he heard talking was talking about paying for a interview and it’s his opinion that Louise and Scott should take advantage of this. Louise is appalled, but they’re going to need money and as Charlie points out, the story is on the verge of breaking to the public either way.
Scott agrees to consider it, but in his thoughts he’s forced to admit that they had no real choice. They owed a lot of money and now he was out of a job.
Scene 14: The next scene reveals the aftermath of his going public with his unique story, turning him into a sensation. He’s on the radio, he’s in newspaper headlines and he’s trapped in the house now, standing just over a head taller than the window sill.
Louise in the meantime argues with the operator for an unlisted number because they’re getting bothered day and night.
A crowd has surrounded the Carey household and police have men keeping people back to the public sidewalk. Scott looks on all of this with anger and despair… and poor Louise….
Scene 15: After she hangs up with the operator, she has to tell Scott that she’s cancelled the phone service until such time as Ma Bell is able to issue an unlisted number to them. She’s fidgety and he’s angry. And their marriage is suffering, obviously.
Scott here turns verbally abusive, venting his rage and accusing the world of seeing this whole thing as a joke at his expense. He tells his wife to go ahead and laugh with the rest at the freak he’s become, but all she can do is weep. His response is more anger that she’s not looking at him, utterly ignoring her devastation at what is happening to them.
The phone rings. At the same time, there is rapid knocking on the door as Scott marches angrily across the room and Louise stands frozen with inaction. She collapses onto a footstool and cries for them all to just leave them alone.
Scott realizes that he’s been taking out his own frustration on her and tries to remind her that there is hope, still and offers that they should just get out of town. She tells him that she’ll look into it, while Scott tries to focus on writing his tell all about what he’s going through.
Commentary: This scene is very good on multiple levels. First, I like that we’re getting Scott as a petulant, angry man rather than as a saint because this is exactly how he should be reacting. Anger, fear, despair… all of these things are perfectly natural and the film isn’t shying away from making Scott an asshole toward his wife under the stress. I also like the special effects accomplished between Randy and Grant that allows them to occupy the same scene withOUT CGI… it’s nearly seamless, helped along by the black & white photography. And, their interactions areN'T just a short few seconds of her looking down at him, either. They have several minutes of dialog with one another - both in frame and interacting closely with one another that makes it all very convincing looking. It really is impressive filming.
Scene 16: Later, Scott has shrunk even further: He’s now 36” and 52 pounds. He writes/voiceovers that they’ve still received no word from the medical center and that they also haven’t been able to find any place to run to. They live without privacy.
Scott’s thoughts are interrupted by the phone ringing again, but whether the operator just failed to cancel the service as requested, or whether they’ve received their private line isn’t specified at this point.
Scene 17: In the basement, Louise busies herself with tailoring a new dress for herself. She’s nibbling a bit of cake as she works, when she’s interrupted by Scott’s excited call at the top of the stairs. He’s excited because the medical center has called to report that they’ve found the answer and are readying the anti-toxin!
Commentary: Unfortunately, this effect fails… badly. Scott ends up transparent at the top of the stairs and this isn’t a side-effect of his condition. And, alas, it’s another scene that gets held on in an attempt to dazzle the audience with the effect. It ends up in Bert I. Gordon territory of special effects though and definitely should’ve been re-filmed without the attempt at putting Louise and Scott in the same frame this time.
Scene 18: The Careys report to the medical center where they’re given the usual disclaimer about no guarantees. He’s also informed that he’ll have to remain under observation for a week at the center.
Scene 19: Later, he’s given a height measurement and weight measurement.
It has been a week since the injection and the nurse reports that there has been no change in Scott’s height or weight in the past week. This is seen as great news as his degeneration has been checked, but Scott is obviously anxious to start growing to his original size which is something that the doctor’s can’t be sure will ever happen, although they promise to go on working on the problem.
Louise and Scott are left dejected, despite the relief of his no longer shrinking.
Scene 20: Sometime later, Louise is reading the paper while Scott goes through their photo album. He voiceovers that since leaving the center, he’d become separated from everything in his old life, except for Louise and he feels like he’s driving her away, too.
Louise for her part, seems to have gotten over the hump on making the transition. She turns in for the night with a small smile at him.
But after she leaves, Scott’s voiceover admits to his feeling absurd and trapped in a caricature of what his life used to be… he admits to feeling like he needed to get out.
He grabs up his coat and flees the house.
Scene 21: On the street, Scott wanders the block. He runs across a couple out for a nightly stroll and quickly crosses the street.
Commentary: This scene is also a rough one as far as effects. It’s obvious that this was some more back projection work because Scott suffers some transparency problems again. It also feels like maybe he’s presented as too short for the supposed 36 ½ inches he allegedly is at the moment.
This is one scene that doesn’t really work for me.
But, the voiceover work from Grant has a little more life to it which is an improvement over the drone that we started with.
Scene 22: Scott ends up across the street from a local carnival [yeah, this should end well].
The barker is going through his spiel about the freaks and geeks and includes the lovely Tina, who is also at 36 inches tall. The barker’s spiel about Tina drives Scott into more despair since he’s already dealing with his own self-loathing at his new height.
He runs off wildly into the night.
Commentary: And yeah… it’s really, really uncomfortable for the 2014 audience to hear Tina and ergo Scott being referred to as ‘freaks’. I desperately wished throughout Scott’s earlier insistence that he’d become a freak that he’d been much, much shorter… like, sci-fi shortness already, but it was hand-wavable because he’s dealing with being at this height under unique circumstances and he’s having to adjust downward from over 6 foot tall to his current height.
But then you get this scene, and it can’t be hand waved anymore. It’s just disrespectful in that 1950’s-didn’t-know-better way that makes you cringe. This would’ve been so much better if he’d been shrunk down to 20 inches before we’d gotten this particular scene. I could accept Scott ranting at himself over being a ‘freak’ at 36 inches… it’s unpleasant to see the movie calling a real person, even in the carnival setting, a freak for their real-life height even if the ‘freak show’ has a long tradition in the carnival.
Scene 23: Scott ends up in a café, so it’s actually sorta nice that he’s gotten over himself enough to go out in public and lo and behold, while he gets curious stares, he’s not being hounded.
Not that he’s noticing.
At a table, he has an oversize [for him] cup of coffee and the container of sugar looks ridiculously large in his hands. He’s joined by Clarice, another ‘little person’ from the carnival where she’s arrived - though not together - with another performer.
Commentary: This scene has some limitations in how it was filmed as well. Basically whenever they can get the actors together using perspective and prop size, it works really, really well at presenting the illusion that Grant Williams has shrunk. But interspersed with these intimate scenes are back-projection work and this is really noticeable and awkward looking.
It’s really unfortunate that the illusion keeps being broken by attempting to widen Scott’s interaction with the outside world, rather than remaining trapped in near-isolation on the set. When later we return to that venue, we can focus more on Carey’s character and less on how/where the special effect isn’t holding up to the job it needs to do.
Scene 24: Clarice and Scott introduce one another, when Clarice suddenly recognizes his name. She goes to excuse herself with apologies for interrupting him, but he asks her to stay and talk to him.
Clarice is able to present a new perspective on the height issue, though she’s also cognizant of things being different for him, since he wasn’t born a midget. But she tells him firmly, though with a smile, that he needs to focus on the future and recognize that life is still the same at their height than it is for their ‘giant’ counterparts.
She excuses herself because she has to get to her show, but Scott asks to see her again….
Scene 25: Back at the house, Scott throws himself back into writing of his experiences, not as a rant against the unfair fates but simply as the story of what happened and how he is adjusting to life in the aftermath of his incredible experience.
Scene 26: Days pass and Scott and Clarice continue to meet. He finds her under a park bench one day, where she’s finished reading his manuscript. He expresses his appreciation for her helping him to want to live again and realize that life isn’t over.
But there is another problem that we notice, and he doesn’t yet. In the diner, Scott was taller than Clarice. On this park bench under the trees… he’s not anymore….
He notices this with a start after he helps Clarice to her feet to buy her a drink. It’s been two weeks since that first meeting over coffee and he’s obviously started to shrink again!
Commentary: The Clarice/Scott meeting is handled a bit awkwardly in my opinion. With the time skip being two weeks, it feels odd to me that we’ve seen no indication of Louise being aware that Scott is meeting this woman, or what her feelings about it are [which you have to assume would be either ambivalent over her husband spending so much time with her, or cautiously relieved that Scott seems to be coming to terms emotionally with his new height] -- and in fact Louise’s emotional rollercoaster seems to be happening largely off-screen which is a missed opportunity, especially in her interactions with her husband.
Scene 27: Some time later, and poor Scott has reached doll-size proportions and moved into an actual dollhouse. But it’s not just Scott’s size that has changed even more. He’s now short enough that Louise’s walking down the stairs in her heels causes his ‘home’ to shake and her speaking at a normal tone of voice causes severe pain to his head.
She’s going out to the corner store, but first has to pass Scott’s suspicious questioning about it.
Louise goes to leave, but realizes she forgot an envelope she needs to post. She only turns her back for a moment, but in that moment the front door is left open. The cat dashes its way in, unnoticed by her before she goes on her way.
Scene 28: After his wife leaves, Carey wanders the dollhouse and voiceovers that as he continued to shrink everyday a little more, he realized that he was becoming more and more tyrannical toward his wife.
He admits to us that he considered suicide nearly daily, but always backed away from it in desperate hopes that the doctors would find the answer and save him. As he’s lying on his doll couch, we see [and hear, thanks to dramatic-musical-sting] the cat sniffing around the toy house.
At first Scott doesn’t notice, but then he hears the sniffing at his ‘front door’ and the whiskers brushing against the house. He foolishly opens the door, to find the giant cat growling his way.
Kitty-kitty goes on the assault, thanks to those empty windows and Scott takes a claw to the back. But he’s armed too, with a homemade blade. But Scott has a problem, in that the cat is easily able to force the dollhouse open at its hinges and he invades the ‘living room’, as our shrunk man makes for the second floor.
Realizing he’s not safe, Scott takes off out of the front door and across the expanse of carpeting toward the dubious hiding place of a chair leg.
Scene 29: As the cat is busy sniffing around the doll house still, Scott tries to run for it but is way too slow. The cat paws him off of his feet and hisses at him as he lays vulnerable.
Just as it looks like Scott is going to get eaten by his own pet, he spots a lamp cord. Jumping on it, he’s able to pull the lamp off of the side table it sits on, and this in turn frightens the cat into a retreat, leaving Scott time to dash away.
He makes his way to the basement, and struggles to close the door. But the kitty has returned and notices the door-shifting. He sticks his paw in the way and tries to grab at Carey, while he struggles to push the door shut on kitty paw.
They seem to be at a standstill with the cat’s greater strength meeting Scott’s greater leverage against the door, until Louise makes a sudden return. The wind from the front door is enough to shove the door, which shoves Scott off of the staircase and into a bin below.
Scene 30: For Louise, it’s utter horror. She sees the aftermath of the cat’s attack on Scott’s dollhouse and searches frantically for any sign that he survived. All she finds is a scrap of his bloody shirt and the cat licking its paw….
Scene 31: A short time later and a press release has been issued reporting Scott Carey’s death. Louise has been joined by Scott’s brother and a homecare nurse. She reports to Charlie that even though Louise has been given a powerful sedative, it’s barely working on her and she’s asked for him. She then leaves for a bit to fill a prescription for her patient.