Scott Carey (Grant Williams) has an incredible story to tell. It started when he was on vacation, lounging around on a boat on the ocean with his wife Louise (Randy Stuart). He asked her to go below deck and fetch him a beer, and after a little persuasion she did, leaving him alone to face a large white cloud that quickly approached, covered Scott, and moved on just as swiftly leaving him with a sparkling residue all over his body. He thought nothing of it until six months later and he noticed his clothes were getting too big for him; if it wasn't the dry cleaner getting them mixed up, then what was the reason? It couldn't be that Scott was growing smaller, could it? Because people just don't get smaller...
Of all the wealth of science fiction films produced in the nineteen-fifties, the one which stood out for its philosophy as much as its action was The Incredible Shrinking Man, and is rightly regarded in classic terms even today. It was based on Richard Matheson's equally classic novel, and as Matheson was also the scriptwriter here it was remarkably faithful to his ideas and set pieces (except the babysitter stuff, which would never have got past the censors in those days). It's strength is not so much in its acting, which is fine yet never inspired, but its brilliant central idea which never cops out and is taken to its "logical" conclusion.
The way that Scott grows smaller is presented in a uneasily matter of fact way at first: his clothes are too big for him, his wife doesn't need to stand on tiptoes to kiss him any more, that sort of thing, so he naturally goes to the doctor who tells him that what Scott suspects is impossible, then when the evidence is too obvious to ignore he is sent for a run of tests that confirm his worst fears. Yes, he's shrinking, and there doesn't seem to be any way to stop it, and when we cut to a few weeks later the damage is plain for all to see, with a three foot tall Scott sitting in an armchair that dwarfs him, hearing from his brother that he can't afford to send him paychecks from now on.
Scott and Louise decide to go to the press and he secures a deal to write his life story, becoming famous in the process, so famous that he daren't leave the house due to the unwanted attention he receives. All the while, Scott is feeling more and more impotent, unable to satisfy his wife or himself, and psychologically he suffers a serious case of inferiority. Throughout the film, seemingly innocuous aspects of daily life grow out of proportion in importance the tinier Scott gets, and while he thinks a new wonder drug has halted the process, the storyline cruelly and inexorably diminishes him, so that even a friendship he strikes up with a midget (April Kent, patently a normal sized woman shot to look small) makes him absurd when he ends up smaller than she is.
And absurd it is, yet played with such a sober approach that you go along with it, especially when Louise comes home one day to find that Scott has been eaten by the pet cat. Ah, but he hasn't really, he had to flee his doll's house dwelling when the fiendish feline attacked him, and poor Scott has ended up lost in the cellar after escaping. Now there is no room for self-pity, he must survive, find food and shelter and avoid the perils of his new environment which include a hungry spider, a creature which is giant sized compared to our miniscule hero. What really marks out The Incredible Shrinking Man are its excellent special effects considering the film's low budget, its genuinely thrilling scenes of Scott fighting for his life, and above all the way that its fear of modern science and all its nasty side effects transform into a spiritual acceptance of the cosmic by the close. With moving final lines, both defiant and acquiescent at the same time, this is a gem.