The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold / U.S., 1957):

The "most fantastic ailment in the annals of medicine" is a case of tangible metamorphosis and spiritual expansion, a unique Jack Arnold mastery. The suburban specimen is a strapping ad man (Grant Williams) literally engulfed by modernity's toxins, one moment he's lounging in the middle of the ocean and the next he's enveloped by a creeping radioactive mist. Pants grow baggy in the weeks after, the wife (Randy Stuart) no longer stands on her toes for a kiss, the wedding ring slides right out of his finger. Suddenly "a land of giants," the carnival at night is a mocking panorama until a charming dwarfette (April Kent) stops by to share an oversized cup of coffee. Richard Matheson's allegory pushes on, however, and the miniaturized protagonist soon discovers the absolute terror of a hungry kitty's magnified meow. "Easy enough to talk of soul and spirit and essential worth, but not when you're three feet tall." The absorbing contrast is to Ray's Bigger Than Life, glowing x-rays and all, replacing the growth spurt of megalomania with the impotent tragicomedy of living in a doll's house. The couple tested by unknown forces in It Came from Outer Space here finds its dissolution, the sprite must alone behold the "vast primeval plain" that is the basement floor. Contemplating the details of this tiny odyssey—the cataract under a leaky heater, the wonderment of mousetraps and matchboxes and straight pins, the black widow guarding a crumb of moldy cake—Arnold is nothing less than the Robert Graves of American science-fiction, positing the mysterious perspective shifts as the mind's road toward pantheistic illumination. "So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite," muses the molecular adventurer slowly awash in serenity. The nightmare dissipates at last in an epiphany oddly akin to Fellini's in La Strada, a dissolve from a peebly garden to the cosmos to point up not nullification but a new beginning. (Lynch and Cronenberg were certainly watching.) With Paul Langton, Raymond Bailey, William Schallert, and Billy Curtis. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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