Saturday, October 14, 2006


This classic 50's science fiction film seems, on the surface, to be another traditional warning about meddling in God's domain, though ultimately the film's message is both more cosmic and more personal than that, with an interesting spiritual tone toward the end. Typical 50's couple Scott and Louise Carey (Grant Williams and Randy Stuart) are lying about in their swimsuits, vacationing on their boat, in an almost flirtatious mood; when Stuart goes down to get some more beer, the boat goes through a large cloud of mist that leaves glitter on Williams' chest (I'm resisting a 70's disco joke here). They don't give the incident much thought, but a few months later, Williams complains that the dry cleaner gave him the wrong clothes because they're too big; later he notices that his wife no longer has to stand on tiptoes to kiss him, and after a trip to the doctor, he realizes that he's slowly shrinking. Modern medicine is helpless--they call his condition "anti-cancer" but don't know how to reverse it--and after news of his condition leaks out, he's viewed as a freak by a nosy public (there's an interlude in which he finds work at a carnival). The doctors try a serum on him which seems to stop the shrinking for a time, but soon even that quits working. Of course, his condition wrecks havoc with his relationship with his wife, who still vows to stick with him. Soon he's reduced to living in a doll house and when their pet cat attacks him, he winds up trapped in the basement. He's so small that he can't get his wife's attention and she assumes he's been killed by the cat. The last section of the film takes place entirely in the basement as he scavenges for food, tries to work around a mousetrap, and finally does battle with a spider. Not all the "big sets" special effects to make Williams look small work, but the action scenes are still surprisingly effective. In the quiet and haunting ending, he stands looking outside into the night sky, no longer hungry, no longer afraid, and, in a Samuel Beckett mood, speculates about going on in the face of the infinitesimal and the infinite. It's interesting that the cause of the shrinking, which is loosely tied to radioactivity and insecticides, isn't dealt with more, especially given the number of 50's SF movies that focused on atom-age fears. The movie clearly had a B-budget, and most of that money went to the special effects, so the sets are threadbare and the acting is modest at best. The blandly handsome, almost hunky Williams isn't the best actor (he wasn't even that good in the detective show "Hawaiian Eye" which seems to have been the peak of his career), but his detached demeanor works in the context of the movie. William Schallert (Patty Duke's TV dad) and Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on "The Beverly Hillbillies") play doctors. Hey, Universal, why isn't this classic out on DVD with commentary? [TCM]

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