Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

A thoughtful, philosophical, intelligent and sensitive Sci-Fi film

Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Written by Richard Matheson
Screenplay by Richard Matheson, Richard Alan Simmons
Based on The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
Music by Irving Getz, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Edited by Albrecht Joseph
Distributed by Universal-International
Running time: 81 minutes
Budget: $750,000
Box office: $(US)1.43 million


Grant Williams as Scott Carey
Randy Stuart as Louise Carey
April Kent as Clarice
Paul Langton as Charlie Carey
Raymond Bailey as Doctor Thomas Silver
William Schallert as Doctor Arthur Bramson
Frank J. Scannell as Barker
Helene Marshall as Nurse
Diana Darrin as Nurse
Billy Curtis as Midget 

Orangey as Butch the cat

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 American black-and-white science fiction film from Universal-International and was adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson from his novel, The Shrinking Man.

This film together with 20 Million Miles to EarthKronos and The Monolith Monsters, all from the same year, left an indelible impression on me for almost six decades. 


Spoilers Follow……

"The strange, almost unbelievable story of Robert Scott Carey…” 

The film opens with title and credits in white font over a black background, which then dissolve to a swirling fog. We are then presented with a shot of a shore and waves lapping and rolling on to a beach, followed by a shot of a boat bobbing serenely on the ocean “on a very ordinary summer day.”

The story begins with Scott Carey, a businessman on vacation with his wife of six years, Louise resting on the bow of his brother Charlie’s boat off the California coast.

When Louise goes below deck to get Scott a beer, a strange cloud looms towards the boat and engulfs it. After it passes on, Scott discovers that his bare skin is coated with a peculiar glittering reflective substance.

"People just don't get shorter" 

Life-changing events strike out of the blue 

Lending old minds new insight 
Into certainties long held true, 
Of self, of life, of wrong and right, 
And why we do what we do.

One morning six months later, a normally 6 foot 1 inch, 190 pound Scott notices that his shirt and trousers seem to be too big. He puts the cause of the looseness of his clothes down to the laundry service, his losing weight and his wife’s cooking.

As the problem persists, Scott visits his family physician, Dr. Arthur Bramson and is informed that his height now measures five-feet and eleven inches. Scott tells the doctor, "I've been six foot, one-inch since I was seventeen." The doctor suggests that his weight loss may be the result of overwork and stress.

A week later Scott notices his bathrobe doesn't appear to fit him properly. Not only does his robe seem as Shakespeare’s Angus might say, to “hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe / Upon a dwarfish thief,” but also when he and Louise kiss, she no longer needs to stand on tiptoe to kiss him. 

Scott definitely appears to be getting shorter. However, unlike Macbeth, he is not a thief in possession of what he is not entitled to, but is instead the one who is being systematically robbed of what is rightfully his. We can, therefore, feel sympathy for him.
Bad Fit

My fearful face frowns with worry 
From the mirror that reflects my failure 
To neatly fill a destiny meant for me, 
Bound tightly by form and structure. 

Finally, there is proof that Scott is getting smaller when he returns to see Dr. Bramson who has a series of X-rays taken at different times. By comparing these X-Rays, he is able to show that Scott is indeed getting smaller.

In order to uncover the reason behind Scott’s diminishing stature, Dr Bramson refers Scott to the California Medical Research Institute. After more tests are conducted, Dr. Thomas Silver tells Scott that he is losing vital chemical elements of Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorus.

The doctor discovers something that doesn't belong which he describes as an anti-cancer. The doctor then asks Scott about possible exposure to insecticide. Scott tells him that two months before he had passed a truck on the highway that was spraying trees. Dr Silver then asks him about radioactive exposure. Just as Scott says no, Louise recalls the incident involving the cloud of mist on the boat six months earlier. It is just possible that the two types of exposure had combined to cause Scott’s cells to shrink by rearranging his molecular structure.

The implications of Scott’s condition for his and Louise’ marriage is briefly but poignantly highlighted by Scott's wedding ring falling off his ring finger, just before they drive off.

As Scott continues to shrink, his story makes it into the newspapers and is now of nation-wide interest. The consequences for Scott are dire: he is unable to drive and has to give up his job working for his brother, Charlie who informs Scott that the loss of a major account means that there are no more pay- checks.

Now reduced to being in debt and unemployed, Scott accepts his brother’s advice to sell his story to the newspapers. He also begins keeping a journal of his experiences which he intends to publish.

As news of Scott’s condition spreads, his house and privacy is besieged by reporters and curious spectators. Louise contacts the telephone company to request an unlisted phone number but they will have to wait for an unlisted line.

Louise soon becomes the recipient of Scott’s misdirected anger as he lashes out at her and the strain is beginning to tell on their marriage. Despite the emotional impact on Louise, she does attempt to reassure her husband that the doctors are working on an anti-toxin.

"The anti-toxin, they found it." 

Now at 36½ inches in height and weighing in at 52 pounds, Scott is informed that an antidote has been found for his condition. At the Institute, Dr. Silver injects Scott but it turns out that there are no guarantees as to the treatment’s success. In fact, there is only a 50/50 chance and that Scott will never return to his former size unless a cure is found. Scott must now stay at the Institute for a week.

The next week it is found that Scott is the same height and weight as the previous week. It seems that the shrinking process has halted. However, re-growing back to Scott’s normal size may not be possible. Scott may therefore have to accept the situation.

With his entire world seeming to fall about him, his marriage deteriorating and his sense of self-worth diminishing, Scott flees from the house for the first time since he sold his story:

“I felt puny and absurd, a ludicrous midget. Easy enough to talk of soul and spirit and existential worth, but not when you're three feet tall. I loathed myself, our home, the caricature my life with Lou had become. I had to get out. I had to get away.”

Little Man

Hey, little man! How come you’re so small
When yesterday you were 10 feet tall?
Did life just get bigger
Or did you get smaller?
They gave your job to some other jerk
When you didn’t measure up at work.
So now you wallow at home in pity and debt
Only able to fuss and fret
About what you’ll lose along the way
And still you’ll continue to pay and pay.
As you lash out at the world and those who love you,
Still you continue 
To diminish

"That night I got a grip on life again.”

We now find Scott at a carnival where he is introduced to one of the acts, a 36 ½ inch midget. Fearing that the world sees him as being nothing more than a freak, he leaves the carnival and goes to a Café for coffee. There he meets and becomes friends with the female midget named Clarice Bruce, who is slightly shorter than him and who appears at the carnival sideshow in town. Clarice tells him she was born a midget and tries to reassure Scott that life is worth living and that it is not all bad being their size:

“Oh, Scott, for people like you and me the world can be a wonderful place. The sky is as blue as it is for the giants.”

The meeting with Clarice seems to have helped to improve Scott’s mood and outlook by knowing that perhaps he is not alone and by having his dilemma put into some kind of perspective.

"It's starting again.

Two weeks later, Scott shows Clarice the journal he has resumed working on. Suddenly he notices that he has become shorter than her indicating that the antidote has stopped working. In a panic, he runs back home which brings an end to his friendship with the one person who can understand his plight and with whom he can share his thoughts and feelings on the matter. In a sense now, he is truly alone.

Scott is now small enough (6 inches high) to be living inside a doll house. He is also housed in a private inner abode of bitterness which expresses itself in his tyrannical and demanding behaviour toward Louise and by his inability to end his "wretched existence."

When Louise goes shopping, Scott is attacked by his own cat, the very cat he used to enjoy playing with. The beloved family pet sees his former owner merely as a potential meal.

Eventually (after playing cat and mouse with the cat…Sorry!) Scott ends up being accidentally trapped in the basement of his home. After returning home, Louise discovers a blood-stained scrap of Scott's clothing. Louise joins the dots and assumes that Butch the cat ate her husband.

KIRL news report: 

"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."

Convinced that her husband is dead, Louise prepares to move.

Scott has now descended to the lowest depths of his house - the basement - where he regains consciousness in a sewing box. Being only three inches tall, Scott knows that he can't climb the stairs. He attempts to call to his wife, but she can't hear him. He contemplates his surroundings and observes:

“The cellar 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 goes quickly into survival mode: Water from a dripping hot water heater. Shelter from a match box. The next requirement, food is more problematic. Without food, the shrinking process will accelerate.

Spotting a piece of cheese in a mouse trap, Scott tries to use a nail to spring the trap, but this only results in the cheese rolling into a floor drain. He then sees a lump of stale cake high up off the ground on a bench or shelf attached to the basement wall. His ability to reach it will involve overcoming the obstacle of a rather dangerous looking spider.

Scott locates a pin cushion and gets hold of a pin to use as a weapon. He fashions another pin into a grappling hook which he uses to scale the side of a box. After some effort, Scott reaches the spider’s web which is partially attached to the piece of cake. He uses his pin tool to break off pieces of the stale cake.

"My prison” 

Scott approaches a vent in the wall but finds that the grid is too small to slip through. All he can do is lament his predicament of being in “a grey friendless area of space and time."

After obtaining a few pieces of the cake, Scott is chased by the spider but manages to escape into his match box shelter where he observes;

"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."

Later on the hot water heater springs a leak that quickly causes the basement to be flooded with a gushing torrent of water. Scott is washed down towards the floor drain as Charlie and Louise enter the basement. He calls out to them but they are unable to hear him. Charlie unclogs the drain, retrieves a trunk and departs the house with Louise, while Scott clings on to a pencil and lapses into unconsciousness over the floor drain.

“As man had dominated the world of the sun, 

so I would dominate my world.”

After Scott regains consciousness, he considers his predicament involving his nemesis, the spider. Retrieving his weapons, Scott embarks once again on the odyssey to obtain the cake perched ever so high up the basement wall.

Scott’s plan is to use a pair of scissors as a weight attached to a pin by thread. He will use the pin to spear the spider, then push the scissors over the ledge causing the impaled spider to be dragged over the ledge by the scissor’s weight.

After a couple of harrowing mishaps trying to execute his plan, Scott is able to retrieve one of his pins, plunge it into the spider's body and kill it.

“To God, there is no zero. I still exist!” 

Instead of savouring his victory over the spider and celebrating it by claiming and devouring the spoils, Scott drops the piece of cake. The now inch-tall Scott realizes that he no longer feels hunger. Nor does he fear shrinking.

He exits the vent screen, walks outside and contemplates the night sky with its full moon and its points of illumination arriving from an infinite past, signalling to the immediate present and lighting the way to an immeasurable eternity. He then suddenly becomes aware that the “infinitesimal and the infinite…. were really the two ends of the same concept,” that “eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle.”

A flash of enlightenment comes to Scott as he looks up and suddenly knows “the answer to the riddle of the infinite…. That existence begins and ends in man's conception, not nature's.”

With that knowledge and understanding, Scott feels his “body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing” and with that his “fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance.” He has come to understand that in the whole scheme of things he in “all this vast majesty of creation” and even being “smaller than the smallest… meant something, too.”

I still exist!

Standing a mere millimetre high, 
Can I still stand tall like a man? 
Can I look life right in the eye 
Not knowing who I am? 
Dwarfed by civilisation, 
Reduced to a sub-atomic mite, 
Ignored by all of creation, 
Oblivious to my plight. 
Do I just vanish and slip into an “0”? 
Or do I just do and be what I am: 
Star stuff, infinitely more than zero, 
One that matters – a limitless little man?

Points of Interest

In the flooding of the basement scene, the giant drops of water were simulated by filling up condoms and dropping them by use of a treadmill. No end of uses for the humble condom!

Director Jack Arnold added Scott Carey's moving and though-provoking closing soliloquy.

A cat by the name of Orangey played Scott Carey's cat.

At the completion of the film’s production, studio executives in a rather conventional, mediocre and unimaginative way of thinking wanted to change the ending to a happy one with doctors coming up with a serum to reverse the shrinking process, but director Arnold held his ground and refused. Instead of a neatly packaged resolution, we have a kind of spiritual enlightenment on the part of the main character.

The Incredible Shrinking Man won the first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation presented by Solacon, the 16th World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles.

The film was named in 2009 to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.

The Incredible Shrinking Man almost stands like a metaphor for much of the human condition particularly in the modern post-industrial context. Scott, like many people find themselves being overwhelmed by fate and circumstances which seem to beyond their control. In the face of world events, geo-politics, the sheer pace of technological change, economic instability, threats to security and privacy and so on, we might very well as individuals experience a sense of powerlessness or of feeling diminished.

Do we then resign ourselves to disappearing unnoticed? Do we wallow in self-loathing and self-pity? Or perhaps we might blame and misdirect our anger and frustration toward the rest of humanity and even those closest to us?

After experiencing the full range of responses to his dilemma and struggling tooth and nail for existence, Scott is able to literally break out of and transcend the confining prison of his basement-like existence and the kind of negative and destructive thinking and feeling it produced in him. He has managed to truly move on in a spiritual and dignified way via the realisation that everything in the universe, no matter how small or insignificant, has its own worth and importance.

©Chris Christopoulos 2016

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Tribute To John Agar

(January 31, 1921 – April 7, 2002)

“…. if I give anybody any enjoyment, I'm doing my job, and that's what counts."

Early Life

John Agar was born in Chicago, Illinois into a wealthy Chicago meat packing family as the oldest of 4 children on Jan 31, 1921. He was educated at the Harvard School for Boys in Chicago and Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois. He graduated from Trinity-Pawling Preparatory School in Pawling, New York, but did not attend college.

After the death of his father, John and his family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1942. 

War Service 

During World War II, a 20 year old John Agar left his studies and enlisted and served in the United States Army Air Corps, mostly at the March Field in Riverside, California. He served as a physical fitness instructor on account of his solid physique. He left the AAF in 1946 having achieved the rank of sergeant at the age of 24.


John Agar is often best remembered for being the first husband of actress Shirley Temple (a school friend of his sister) whom he married in 1945. Agar was 24 years old and Temple was only 17.

A foretaste of what was to come regarding the marriage soon emerged with the media frenzy and constant scrutiny surrounding Agar’s relationship with Shirley Temple.

Agar and Temple had a daughter, Linda Susan Agar in 1948.

Agar and Temple’s marriage turned out to be a troubled one due in part to Agar's drinking problems and the pressures arising from their high public profile. John Agar hated being constantly referred to as "Mr. Shirley Temple" in the papers. He turned to alcohol to help cope with the mounting pressures. 

After only 4 years of marriage, Temple sued for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty in 1949.

After his divorce from Temple, Agar remarried in 1951 to model Barnett Combs. They had two sons, Martin Agar and John G. Agar, III. The marriage lasted for 49 years until Loretta’s death in 2000.

Acting Career 

Movie producer and Temple’s boss, David O. Selznick signed Agar to a five-year acting contract starting at $150 a week, including acting lessons!

Agar and his wife Shirley Temple worked together in Ford's classic 1948 Western film, Fort Apache and in the film, Adventure in Baltimore. Agar worked with John Wayne in Fort Apache and again in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. He also worked with Wayne in the classic World War 2 film, Sands of Iwo Jima. Agar went on to make a total of six movies with John Wayne.

John Agar’s career was unfortunately punctuated by alcohol-fuelled incidents. In 1950 Agar was fined for reckless driving and in 1951 was jailed for five months for drunk driving. Agar was released after 60 days on probation. In 1953 he was arrested for drink driving yet again and was sentenced to 120 days’ imprisonment.

The news media turned against John Agar who was not long before considered to have been one of Hollywood's most popular leading men.

No longer having the status of an A-movie star, Agar did manage to continue with his acting career by playing leading roles in low-budget science fiction, Western, and horror B movies in the 1950s and 1960s. He was to eventually achieve something of a cult status among classic science fiction movie fans.

John appeared in many science fiction films, some of which have already been featured in this blog;

(sequel to "Creature from the Black Lagoon")




Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) 
Attack of the Puppet People (1958) 
Destination Space (1959) 
Invisible Invaders (1959) 
The Hand of Death (1962) 
Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) 
Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) 
Zontar the Thing from Venus (1966) 
(remake of 1956 Roger Corman’s, "It Conquered the World") 

As the popularity of science fiction films began to wane in the 1960's, John Agar appeared mostly in Western genre films.

Although acting roles grew more scarce for Agar, his loyal friend of over 20 years, John Wayne, gave Agar supporting roles in the Westerns, The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), and Big Jake (1971).

In tribute to John Agar’s contributions to science fiction, director John Guillermin also gave Agar a cameo role in the 1976 remake of the 1933 classic, King Kong.

In addition to these movie roles, John Agar made several guest appearances on popular T.V. programs in the 1970's and 1980's, such as Charlie's Angels, Police Story, and an episode of The Twilight Zone. Agar was also in great demand at sci-fi conventions.


John Agar died on April 7, 2002 at Burbank, California of complications from emphysema. He was survived by his three children.

Awards & Legacy 

John Agar was awarded the "Lifetime Career Award" by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films in 1981.

Agar was quite realistic about his career, and the films he appeared in:

“To me the idea of just working is what's fun, I don't give a doggone what kind of part.” However, “a lot of the pictures I made were not released--they escaped.” 

Thank you John Agar for doing your job: giving us a lot of fun!

©Chris Christopoulos 2016