Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

In director Jack Arnold's existential, allegorical science-fiction horror-film with fantastically-effective special effects, it told about a shrunken, miniscule human being suffering contamination from the effects of nuclear radiation and insecticide. He literally became an alien in his own 50's Los Angeles suburban home. Director Arnold's earlier sci-fi films included: It Came From Outer Space (1953), Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), This Island Earth (1955) (uncredited), and Tarantula (1955).

This landmark B-film of drama and adventure was based on author Richard Matheson's adaptation of his own second novel in 1956 ("The Shrinking Man"), his first screenplay (co-written for the screen by Richard Alan Simmons, who was responsible for removing the novel's flashback structure). Although the studio and some preview screen testings pressured for a positive and reassuring resolution to the tale (the restoration of his size and reconciliation with his wife), Matheson's original downbeat and demoralizing ending (with some triumph) was preserved, along with Jack Arnold's finale-soliloquy (not in the original script).

Much of the film's production budget was spent on special effects - including the use of trick photography, rear-screen projection, compositing, and oversized sets and props (the dollhouse, the matchbox, the sewing pin, etc.), plus the use of clever camera angles and editing.

For much of the allegorical film, there was a major underlying subtext. It described an originally-healthy and strong male protagonist who was slowly emasculated, lost power and was made impotent and insignificant, and became alienated from his wife - a truly domestic nightmare reflecting fears in the 1950s of the loss of male empowerment. In fact, he admitted that as he became smaller, he was also becoming more tyrannical and domineering toward his wife. In the final third of the film, while Scott found himself in an alien world, the dialogue was non-existent except for the 'shrinking man's' narration of his own vulnerable, utterly alone and existential predicament, and the profound meaning and understanding he had of his fragile life. He would soon become nothing at all and would end up vanishing and becoming infinitesimal.

[Note: Similar films that paid homage included The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), Fantastic Voyage (1966), the comedy The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) starring Lily Tomlin, Innerspace (1987) and Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989). Also, director Nicholas Ray's previous year's drama Bigger Than Life (1956) similarly indicted the misuse of chemicals.]:

  • in the movie titles sequence, the outline of a human figure shrunk in size (in the bottom left corner) as a white cloud ominously expanded in the center of the frame - an obvious reference to the Cold War era and its fears and anxieties about the atomic age, radioactivity and dangerous nuclear weapons - a symbol of mankind's ultimate helplessness against its own uncontrollable expansion of science and technology; in the uncertain world of the Atomic Age, science had found the secret to splitting the atom, unleashing tremendous power, but also horrifying and unthinkable thoughts of oblivion
  • the movie began with first-person voice-over narration from the main character: "The strange, almost unbelievable story of Robert Scott Carey began on a very ordinary summer day. I know this story better than anyone because I am Robert Scott Carey"
  • in the opening sequence, virile and muscular advertising executive "Captain" Robert "Scott" Carey (Grant Williams) was on a vacation off the California coast with his wife (married for the previous six years), Louise "Lou" Carey (Randy Stuart); the two were lounging on his brother Charlie's (Paul Langton) small cabin cruiser yacht, when Scott playfully ordered Louise to go below deck and get him some icy cold beer: ("To the galley, wench. Fetch me a flagon of beer")

The Ominous Approach of a Large White Cloud (Radioactive)

Scott Stood Up as the Yacht Entered the Strange Misty Contaminated White Cloud

Scott Exposed and Covered With Glittering Particles
  • Scott spotted a large ominous cloud above the water and stood up, and after the yacht plunged through the strange and mysterious, misty or smoky fog bank, Scott noticed that his chest was covered with white glittering particles, powder or detritus; his wife escaped the radioactive exposure by being below deck
  • over a period of six months, Scott gradually began to shrink in size as he lost weight and stature and noticed that his clothes were loose and didn't fit; he realized that he was losing both weight (about 10 pounds) and stature (a few inches, from 6 feet 1 inch, to 5 feet 11 inches) when he visited his skeptical family physician Dr. Arthur Bramson (William Schallert); although Scott voiced his concerns to Dr. Bramson, the doctor blamed his overwork and stressed-out nerves or insufficient diet, and possibly improper measurements of his vitals in the past: "People don't get shorter, Mr. Carey"; that evening, as Scott kissed Louise, he realized she no longer had to stand on her toes to reach him; she echoed the doctor's words: "People just don't get smaller"
  • the physician had first denied any problem until X-rays over a period of days confirmed and proved that he was slowly shrinking ("You are getting smaller"); Dr. Bramson declared: "There's no medical precedent for what's happening to you"
  • numerous and extensive tests followed at the California Medical Research Institute led by Dr. Thomas Silver (Raymond Bailey); it was discovered that he was losing vital chemical elements (nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus); the diagnosis was that there had been a rearrangement of the molecular structure of his cells that caused a genetic mutation ("more like an anti-cancer, causing a diminution of all the organs"); when asked, he remembered having been accidentally exposed a few months earlier to a "germ spray" - a pesticide from a tree-spraying truck; thinking back, Scott also recalled that he had been exposed to a radioactive mist on the boat, that somehow had produced a triggering effect, and caused the mildly virulent germ-spray insecticide to create a "deadly chemical reversal of the growth process"
  • while stunned and reacting to the devastating diagnosis outside in their car, "Shrinking Man" Scott suggested to Louise that she was free to leave him since he was no longer able to fulfill his manly functions with reduced shape and size: ("There's a limit to your obligation"), exemplified by his wedding ring limply slipping from his finger; the loosened wedding ring symbolized his castration anxiety (loss of his genitals), fear of shrinkage and becoming impotent, and reduction of his life's essence or force from his POV
  • without regular work and a paycheck, debts rose for the Carey's; Scott's brother Charlie, who was experiencing his own financial difficulties, suggested to his brother that he exploitatively charge persistent and nosy news-reporters ("Make them pay!") for his sensational story and for interviews; it was a shock when the camera angle changed, and viewed Scott dwarfed by a living room chair

Scott Dwarfed By the Size of a Living Room Chair

Scott Barely Able to See Out the Living Room Window

Scott Half His Adult Size at About 3 Feet Tall
  • compelled to remain secluded in his home as he kept losing size (and was barely tall enough to look out the living room window), Scott had shrunk to the size of a 5 year-old kid (one-half his adult size at 3 feet); known as "The Incredible Shrinking Man," Scott became a fascinating object of media attention and national curiosity; Louise was becoming upset by the constant attention and lack of privacy, and strove to obtain an unlisted home phone number
  • Scott was becoming more and more disheartened by his shrunken condition, calling himself a "freak" and sarcastically telling Louise: "I'm a big man! I'm famous!...See how funny I am? The child that looks like a man"; but then he apologized for speaking harshly to her: "I'm sorry. I must be losing my mind talking to you like this"; both were hoping that doctors could develop an anti-toxin or antidote to reverse his condition
  • Scott began to keep a journal of his thoughts for a future book; it kept a record of his size and weight changes (he was now 3 feet tall and weighed 52 pounds); Scott and Louise were overjoyed when a treatment serum was found to check the degenerative process of his disease; after a week of observation, it seemed he had stabilized, but doctors denied that it would reverse his condition, and he would remain 3 feet tall
  • the relationship between Scott and Louise began to deteriorate, and he admitted that he was driving her away, due to his insecurities and self-hate: ("I felt puny and absurd. A ludicrous midget...I loathed myself. Our home, the caricature my life with Lou had become, I had to get out, I had to get away"); he felt he must escape for a short while and ran off into the night
  • Scott was emotionally bolstered by a short friendship with a carnival-worker dwarfette-midget his exact size named Clarice Bruce (April Kent) after they shared a cup of coffee at a cafe near the carnival grounds; Scott described how his spirits were lifted by finding a freak like himself; he reacted with hope and went back home and plunged into writing his autobiography: ("That night I got a grip on life again. I went back to work on my book. It absorbed me completely") until he realized in shock, when standing next to Clarice one day in the park, that he was continuing to shrink ("It's starting again!!")
The Shrunken 6 Inch-Tall Scott on the Inside and the Outer Porch of a Dollhouse
  • weeks later and now only six inches tall, Scott was permanently living in a miniature dollhouse (a feminine playtoy - the ultimate in demasculinization); one day when Louise was going out, she accidentally let their house cat Butch (Orangey) inside; the pet had now become dangerous to Scott's livelihood; Scott narrated (in voice-over) how he had become very demanding of Louise, negatively compensating for his physical deterioration: ("Every day, I became more tyrannical, more monstrous in my domination of Louise"); he was also entertaining thoughts of suicide to end his "wretched existence"
Butch Assaulting Scott From Outside and Within the Dollhouse
  • prowling around the dollhouse, Butch attacked the protective enclosure and clawed at its front door; Butch also scratched at Scott's back through a open side window; he retaliated by stabbing Butch with a small makeshift knife; then, Butch furiously tore at the doll house and detached it from the wall and was able to enter inside through the false back; Scott ran from the dollhouse across the living room floor, and was swiped at by the snarling cat, toying with its prey; to momentarily startle the cat, Scott pulled on a lamp's electrical cord and toppled the lamp from the tabletop to the floor, scaring Butch away; Scott raced over to the ajar basement door, slipped in, and looked down the daunting set of stairs; Butch followed his scent and began scratching at the door from the other side and attempting to enter as he pushed back
  • at that moment, Louise arrived home and a gust of wind flung the door open and sent Scott tumbling downwards; he landed in Louise's sewing basket at the foot of the stairs and lost consciousness; Louise saw the damage in the living room and the detached dollhouse, and expressed her fears that the cat had eaten him after finding a piece of Scott's bloody torn undershirt
  • KIRL TV broadcast the news (John Hiestand): "From Los Angeles today, a tragic story. The passing of Robert Scott Carey. The report of the death of the so-called 'Shrinking Man' comes from his brother. Carey's death was the result of an attack by a common house cat -- a former pet in the Carey home. Carey was the victim of the most fantastic ailment in the annals of medicine. Thus ends the life of a man whose courage and will to survive lasted until the the very end. A man whose fantastic story was known to virtually every man, woman and child in the civilized world"; Louise was devastated and was being treated by a nurse with heavy sedatives
  • for almost the entire second half of the film, Scott now faced and endured numerous challenges and threats to his life and had to discover new resources in order to live in his "basement universe" - now that he was only about 3 inches tall; after regaining consciousness, he realized he was trapped in the sewing box: ("Its walls enclosed me like some gigantic pit"); many common-place objects now became giant, ominous obstacles and dangers; unable to scale up the towering stairs or call out to Louise with enough volume, Scott was able to climb out of the sewing basket with a champagne cork serving as a ladder so he could reach an opening; he again looked up the stairs: ("The stairs stretched above me as far as I could see. Cliff rising above cliff...")
  • he discovered that he could obtain water from a leaky, dripping water heater; he also observed: "The cellar floor stretched before me like some vast primeval plain. Empty of life. Littered with the relics of a vanished race. No desert island castaway ever faced so bleak a prospect"; Scott found shelter and a "dwelling place" in a tiny matchbox; he cut up his clothes with the end of a sharp nail; he unsuccessfully attempted to snatch a piece of stale cheese from a giant mousetrap when he snapped it with the weight of a pointed nail, but the cheese rolled away and dropped through a floor grating

Shelter and "Dwelling Place" in a Matchbox

Mousetrap With a Morsel of Stale Cheese

Cheese Lost Through a Floor Grating
  • as he shrank even smaller; he was resolved to find food; he noticed some moldy dry cake or bread on the top of a wooden crate box; he also hid from a scary-looking tarantula prowling on the floor of the basement; he borrowed a pin from a pin cushion in Louise's sewing box, bent it into a 90 degree angle, and attached a section of thread from a spool (burnt into the correct length with a match) onto it; he used the right-angled pin with rope attached as a grappling hook to scale up the horizontal slats on the side of the crate in order to reach the top of it
  • now he realized he had a tremendous deep space in front of him: ("But now, stretching endlessly before me, I found a deep abyss. It was only a box and the space between. Yet to me it was the Grand Canyon and the Mammoth Caves combined. Deep, dark, mysterious and dangerous"); he had to leap from an extended paint stick (with hardened paint stuck on one end) to get across the large gap to the other side of the top of the crate; when the end of the paint stick began to loosen and threatened to drop him, he was forced to jump across the gap and barely made it; he climbed up another dangling piece of thread (wrapped in a ball) to the next higher level; he then raced across the top of the concrete basement wall to the food, and took a big bite after loosening it with his pin

Ingeniously Scaling Up the Side of a Crate Box With Wooden Slats to Reach the Top

On the Paint Stick - Ready to Leap Across the Deep Gap in the Crate

Barely Making It Across the Box's Gap After Jumping

Climbing Up to the Next Level On Another Piece of String (Wrapped in a Ball)

Racing Across the Top of the Basement Concrete Wall to the Morsel of Food

Biting Into a Chunk of Stale Food
  • he glanced around and saw a possible escape route from the basement to the grassy yard - a screened vent, but the size of the grid pattern was too small for him to slip through; he lamented: "MY prison. Almost as far as I could see, a grave, friendless area of space and time. And I resolved that as Man had dominated the world of the sun, so I would dominate my world"
  • however, as he gathered chunks of food and tossed them to the basement floor for later, Scott realized that the largest chunk of food was attached to a spider web; he was facing a daunting enemy and was being hunted; he was chased by the tarantula back into his match-box shelter: ("In my hunt for food, I had become the hunted. This time I survived. But I was no longer alone in my universe. I had an enemy. The most terrifying ever beheld by human eyes")
  • meanwhile, as Louise and Charlie were packing up to permanently vacate the house, Scott was again being threatened by the busted, leaking water heater since his matchbox home was directly underneath it and was being bombarded by large droplets; he was nearly drowned when the bottom of the water heat broke open and a torrent of water began to flood the basement; Charlie and Louise noticed the flooded basement and came down the stairs to turn off the water and gas pilot light; Charlie also removed rags that were clogging the drain, but both of them were unable to see or hear Scott calling out to them from under the stairs and in the water; Scott held onto a floating pencil to avoid sinking and being swept down the drain
  • afterwards, he again faced a continuing competitive and violent "death struggle" with the giant tarantula for the last crumb of cake, but he became philosophical after acquiring his weapons (grappling hook and pin) back in his matchbox: ("My enemy seemed immortal. More than a spider, it was every unknown terror in the world, every fear fused into one hideous night-black horror"); using his human intelligence, he planned on impaling the "monster" with his grappling hook, and then fastening the line to a heavy pair of scissors and pushing the scissors off the ledge; he challenged: "One of us had to die!"
  • as the tarantula approached, his plan worked for the most part, but then the string became snagged on the concrete edge and snapped; as the spider continued its attack, it was seen with a close-up of its voracious mouth looking at him as prey; he was finally able to impale the threatening creature and kill it from underneath with one of the straight pins from the sewing box
  • the conquering Scott walked over to the chunk of cake, but suddenly didn't feel hungry or fearful: ("It was as if my body had ceased to exist. There was no hunger. No longer the terrible fear of shrinking"); after sleeping for a bit of time, he realized in his newly-diminutive state (now about one inch in height) that he was able to escape the basement vent by slipping through its narrow mesh; he was able to walk in the outdoors, to look up at the dark sky and moon and ponder a new beginning without fear
Final Words: "I STILL EXIST!"
  • as the film concluded, Scott delivered a memorable enlightened and nihilistic philosophical speech - a hopeful epiphany of sorts (in voice-over) - about being infinitesimal, and how he would soon be miscroscopic and able to merge and become one with God and the universe - he pondered whether there was a divine plan behind all the chaos of his unraveled and uncertain life:
    • "I was continuing to shrink, to become... What? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close - the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature that existence begins and ends is man's conception, not nature's. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I STILL EXIST!"

Opening Title Credits: A Shrinking Figure and A Blossoming Mysterious White Cloud

"Scott" Carey (Grant Williams) and Wife Louise (Randy Stuart) Vacationing on a Cabin Cruiser Yacht

Scott Realizing That His Clothes Didn't Fit Properly

A Kiss Revealed That Louise Was No Longer Standing on Her Toes to Reach Him

Scott's Stunned Reaction to His Diagnosis

Quick Glimpse of His Wedding Ring Slipping Off His Finger Onto Floor of Car

Louise and Scott In Their Living Room

Dwarfed by Simple Objects

At the Doctor's Office For an Antidote Shot

Coffee and Conversation with Carnival Midget-Dwarf Clarice Bruce (April Kent)

Scott Back to Writing His Book

Butch the Cat Prowling Outside the Miniature Dollhouse

Butch Chasing, Snarling, and Swiping at Scott as He Raced Across the Living Room Floor

Butch and Scott Pushing On Either Side of the Basement Door

Louise's Dismay and Distress Over Scott's Possible Demise

Escaping From an Opening in the Side of the Sewing Box

The Ominous Stairs From Scott's Tiny 3-Inch Tall POV

The Basement's Screened Vent to the Outdoors - He Was Trapped

The Tarantula Chasing Scott Back to His Matchbox Shelter

Leaky and About-to-Burst Water Heater Above His Shelter

Caught in a Torrent of Water and Nearly Drowned

Hanging Onto a Floating Pencil Above Drain

Closeup of Tarantula's Mouth

Impaling Tarantula With Straight Pin From Underneath


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