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The Incredible Shrinking Man

Year: 1957
Studio: Universal
Director: Jack Arnold
Writer: Richard Matheson
Cast: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart

It would have been an eye popping movie to watch in 1957, and also a really fun technical pre-computer age challenge deciding which shots would have a real actor and giant-scale props or footage superimposed over real footage of the miniature world.

Square-jawed 50s hero Scott (Williams) and his wife Louise (Stuart) are lounging on a borrowed yacht one day when she goes below and the boat drifts through a strange, isolated cloud that engulfs him.

The family doctor gives him a clean bill of health and in the ensuing weeks, neither think much more about it before Scott starts to realise his clothes are feeling too big. For some strange reason, he's convinced he's shrinking.

Soon the change is too obvious to ignore and Scott and Louise's lives becomes media sensations of reporters calling and crowds watching from outside their house. In one of the film's unintentionally funny scenes, she walks into the living room to talk to him seated on a couch, Scott himself out of view. We cut to him and he looks so much like a little boy with his feet hanging in midair on this gigantic chair it's hilarious.

But things soon turn dangerous as Scott becomes so small he can only live in a doll's house. In what would have been terrifying to 1957 audiences, the family cat takes a bloodthirsty interest in him and when he can escape he feels into the cellar, now a giant underworld of dangers from a menacing spider to a flooding hot water system that threatens to wash him down a plughole.

Worse still, he's now too small for Louise to hear him, so when she assume the cat has eaten him, Louise locks the cellar shut and prepares to leave in her grief.

It starts the adventure film portion of the movie. Among other set pieces, Scott has to climb up onto a bench using string and a sewing pin for a grappling hook to try and reach a crumb of food, sleep in a matchbox, and fight the eight-legged monster he shares the cellar with.

For a film of the time it has a surprisingly downbeat ending – you expect an 11th hour miracle cure or rescue to put Scott and Louise back in each other's arms, but what happens is instead very different – philosophical (to wrap up the soul searching Scott's being doing throughout his plight) and sad.

Of course it's much easier in the age of CGI to do this sort of thing so, surprise surprise, it's being remade by MGM.

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