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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)

Before drifting into the ranks of journeyman episodic tv directors (all the way down to THE LOVE BOAT), Jack Arnold made a lasting impression in ‘50s Universal Sci-Fi/Horror. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE/’53; CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON/’54 and this modest winner are, each in their own way, surprisingly fresh to revisit. Often copied and/or camped up, the more ‘knowing’ redos had bigger budgets and more sophisticated F/X (with or without CGI), only to look more dated. Maybe they try too hard & do too much, winding up less effective than the originals that influenced them. Of the three mentioned above, INCREDIBLE has the most strikingly uncluttered storyline: Atomic Mist triggers irreversible, unstoppable shrinkage in typical male suburbanite. That’s pretty much all there is . . . and all Arnold needs. Fun, often funny, or rather witty, with wonderful shock cuts as our radioactive hero is revealed on smaller & smaller stages to fight mighty battles against smaller & smaller ‘monsters’ (house cat, spider, water drain, brother-in-law). Yet the film really doesn’t come across as ‘camp;’ Arnold’s neat as a pin direction; the acting, especially from leading man Grant Williams; and Richard Matheson’s perfectly structured, psychologically astute script are ‘all of a piece,’ playing out with unexpected emotional resonance. Just the right running time, too, finishing before you come up with unanswerable questions. And the analogue special effects? They’re simple, straightforward, largely believable; though that stale piece of cake reeks of papier mâché. (Edible, non?) And who flubbed the scale ratio on those diner coffee cups? Andre the Giant would look like he had small hands holding one.) If only Universal had popped for a stronger score, this semi-precious stone would shine twice as bright.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Orson Welles, shooting TOUCH OF EVIL/’58 for the same producer (Albert Zugsmith) at the time, tried to curry favor doing voice-over for the ‘teaser’ trailer. No luck, Zugsmith recut EVIL against his instructions, anyway. It took 40 years for the Welles cut to come out.

DOUBLE-BILL: If INCREDIBLE is Scale as Horror Pic; Buster Keaton’s THE NAVIGATOR/’24 is Scale as Silent Comedy. Equally philosophical; more laughs.

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