THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (73) (second viewing: 77)

Directed by: Jack Arnold (1957)

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart

The Pitch: After coming into contact with a radioactive cloud, our hero starts getting tinier and tinier.

Theo Sez: So many 50s sci-fi classics are interesting today for partly or even mostly extraneous and esoteric reasons - the anti-McCarthy subtext in INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, the Shakespearean references in FORBIDDEN PLANET - that it's something of a shock to find one that still works primarily as an action movie (albeit with philosophical overtones at the very end). The first half is smooth but functional, with lots of that post-war reverence for the scientific/medical Establishment that's simultaneously touching and irritating - the film is so respectful of the complacent scientists who try to cure our hero you begin to wonder who it thinks was responsible for the mysterious, presumably nuclear radiation that destroyed his life in the first place (the Commies, probably). Once it gets the shrinking man down to micro-size however, trapping him in a Brobdingnagian basement with only a terrifyingly huge spider for company, it's a near-perfect B movie, as intense and nightmarish as its progeny (HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, LAND OF THE GIANTS on TV) are fun and kid-friendly. Even when the low-budget effects are occasionally cheesy - when the massive props look a little too much like polystyrene, or when a rope catches on what's meant to be an abyss (but is actually a bit of soundstage painted black) - it remains exciting. If anything, the imperfections point up the challenges the film faces - and how imaginative it is in resolving almost all of them. [Second viewing, more than a decade later (January 2012); turns out I actually underrated this. The first half isn't "smooth but functional", it's actually terse and nightmarish, and may be even better than the second half wherein it morphs into a sci-fi "Robinson Crusoe" and proto-blockbuster (not really B-movie, or maybe it's just that modern blockbusters work so much like B-movies), setting up a series of action-movie problems with admirable respect for plausibility. Then comes the ending, pulling a stunner of an Apichatpong - "And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite ... That Existence begins and ends is Man's conception, not Nature's" - and soaring to a whole new level; hard to believe the suits permitted such a high-flown coda, but I guess a battle with a giant spider buys a lot of transcendence.]