Tag Archives: Jack Arnold

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957, Jack Arnold)

The Incredible Shrinking Man is an enormous feat. It succeeds thanks to director Arnold, writer Richard Matheson, and star Grant Williams. Arnold’s arguably got the greatest successes; he carefully lays the groundwork for the film’s eventual startling visuals. To get to the startling ones, Arnold’s got to get through some absurd ones. Only the first act visuals aren’t startling or absurd, they’re just mundanely peculiar. Even when Williams finally gets it confirmed—his suspicions are correct, he is somehow shrinking—the film gets some energy out of William Schallert giving the news in a very William Schallert way, but otherwise tension doesn’t rise. It’s still early in the film, which only runs eighty minutes and more than half of it is a survival picture; Arnold and Matheson pace things out gradually in the first section. Even though every scene perturbs the plot, Matheson is really just moving Williams into position for the real story to come.

The story of man against his environment, an environment of his own unintentional making. All the smart moves Arnold makes in the beginning as Williams shrinks from six feet tall to three feet tall, all the elaborate set decorating, the outstanding matte shots… the second half survival picture is where Arnold and the crew up the effects work. As Williams shrinks to the height of a doll, then to a matchstick, the effects requirements grow exponentially. It’s a lot easier to have Williams sit shrunk on a couch across the room from regular-size wife Randy Stuart, but getting him into a dollhouse so she can lean down and talk to him like he’s Fay Wray? Arnold doesn’t just up the effects ante, he also takes into account how much more fantastical his visuals are getting. He’s got to sell it all to the audience.

And he does. Shrinking Man is always inventive in how the effects get integrated, because eventually the effects become the visual plane. Reality is long gone.

Matheson does just as well changing gears from the opening medical thriller picture to the survival one. Williams—who narrates the whole picture, usually to solid effect—has entirely different expectations in the second half of the film than the audience. The first half, they’re pretty much inline as far as predicting the plot. Especially if an audience member has seen the posters advertising film as the “Dollman vs. House cat”. Williams doesn’t have the exact same expectations, but he operates with a lot of fear, which comes out in his performance but not the narration. The narration—which ends up being Matheson’s only problem area for specific, somewhat unrelated reasons—is all past tense. Even though Williams spends the first half of the film writing his life story, the narration isn’t that written account. It’s something else, which Matheson never identifies. It’s a soft spot, but given some of the other soft spots in the script, it might be better he doesn’t place it in time and place.

Just to get them out of the way now—the other two soft spots in Matheson’s script? The gentle attempts to comment on Williams’s changing masculine self-image. It all has to do with Stuart, who establishes herself in the first scene as this strong partner. And Williams appreciates her as such. Loads of chemistry in the first scene. Just because the script doesn’t give Stuart anything to do after her second scene, which mostly has her making breakfast, she never gets downgraded either. I guess it’s kind of a larger soft spot overall—the way Matheson abandons Stuart to get to the sci-fi medical thriller. As Williams gets smaller, he gets meaner to Stuart, but he’s really aware of it, both in narration and scene. Stuart’s going to assume he’s really apologetic in a scene because they’re both going through a fantastic trauma. The audience knows from the narration he means it. So it’s all a dramatic wash, which wastes not just Stuart, but Williams as well. They’ve only got so much time together.

Third soft spot is Matheson’s attempt to tie it all into God and the cosmos. The film doesn’t really need it—like, even for 1957, Shrinking Man never gets too sacrilegious in its Nuclear Age sci-fi—but Matheson uses it when he runs out of plot ideas. It’s a really strange move, which might have worked in the source novel (also by Matheson), but doesn’t come off visualized. And given how well Arnold visualizes everything else in the picture, he’s got to know, right?

Besides Williams and Stuart, only April Kent and Paul Langton make much impression in the cast. Kent’s the nice little person who Williams bonds with. It’s an undercooked plot point, but effective. Kent’s good. Langton’s Williams’s older brother, who ends up caring for Stuart after Williams… shrinks too much. It’s a throwaway character, who just sits around taking agency from Stuart, usually in exposition dumps, and Langton’s really bland in the part.

So they stand out for very different reasons.

Excellent photography from Ellis W. Carter, good editing from Albrecht Joseph; great special effects, great sets. The Incredible Shrinking Man is a big success, it just should’ve been an even bigger one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Albrecht Joseph; produced by Albert Zugsmith; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Grant Williams (Scott Carey), Randy Stuart (Louise Carey), Paul Langton (Charlie Carey), April Kent (Clarice Bruce), Raymond Bailey (Doctor Silver), and William Schallert (Doctor Bramson).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE RICHARD MATHESON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RICH OF WIDE SCREEN WORLD AND DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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The Monolith Monsters (1957, John Sherwood)

Against the odds, The Monolith Monsters almost comes together in the finale. The special effects are good, there’s a lot of tension, none of the acting is too bad. And then the end flops. I want to blame director Sherwood, maybe screenwriters Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, maybe editor Patrick McCormack, maybe producer Howard Christie; I can’t blame any of them in particular because The Monolith Monsters sputtering out is all their faults. Technically speaking, only Ellis W. Carter’s photography is adequate throughout. Even the special effects take a while to come together because they’re poorly paced. The movie’s actually not though. The movie moves at a good pace, though it does lose “lead” Grant Williams too often.

Williams is fine. He doesn’t save the movie but he doesn’t do anything bad in his part, which is an achievement in this picture. Lola Albright’s bad as his girlfriend. Les Tremayne is likable but not good as the town reporter. Oh, Albright’s a school teacher. She’s better as the school teacher than as Williams’s squeeze and she’s terrible as the school teacher. Trevor Bardette is likable but not good as Williams’s college professor. Harry Jackson probably gives the best performance in the film, though an uncredited William Schallert has a ball as a fastidious weatherman.

The writing is fairly lame. Lots of expository dialogue, which director Sherwood can’t get his actors to convey naturally. Some of the problem is the script, some Sherwood, some the actors. Phil Harvey’s Williams’s sidekick and he’s bad whenever he has to talk, but endearing when he’s just moving around the set. It’s weird, but then the film keeps going and other performances are weak and unsupported by the direction and it makes sense. Everything wrong with The Monolith Monsters makes perfect sense.

Except the screw-up at the end. Everything building to it–and some of the scenery gets set up at the film’s open and then more in that weak expository dialogue–it goes seamlessly for almost all of it and then stalls. It’s a problematic but winning special effects sequence. It needs support from the rest of the film and it doesn’t get it. It’s silly. The Monolith Monsters is silly and it shouldn’t be and it ruins a lot of the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Sherwood; screenplay by Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, based on a story by Jack Arnold and Fresco; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Patrick McCormack; produced by Howard Christie; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Grant Williams (Dave Miller), Lola Albright (Cathy Barrett), Les Tremayne (Martin Cochrane), Trevor Bardette (Prof. Arthur Flanders), Phil Harvey (Ben Gilbert), William Flaherty (Police Chief Dan Corey), Harry Jackson (Dr. Steve Hendricks), Richard H. Cutting (Dr. E.J. Reynolds) and Linda Scheley (Ginny Simpson).


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Revenge of the Creature (1955, Jack Arnold)

Revenge of the Creature has three parts. The first part involves Nestor Paiva (the only cast member from the original to return) and John Bromfield as the guy who’s going to capture the Creature, the second part involves Bromfield, John Agar and Lori Nelson all studying the Creature in captivity, the third part has Agar and Nelson hunting the escaped Creature.

Oh, wait, no. The third part has Agar and Nelson completely ignoring the escaped Creature. And it makes sense. They were visiting scientists, they had no real investment in the Creature being a tourist attraction. Revenge of the Creature is a totally fine idea terribly executed. Maybe if Agar and Nelson had any chemistry whatsoever. Instead, their scenes are more interesting for the bland 1950s sexism. Nelson’s a scientist too, but she’s got to make a choice, one Agar wouldn’t be able to make. It’s not fair.

Maybe they’d have more chemistry with better small talk. But Martin Berkeley’s script wants to be taken seriously as science-y, which is a big mistake. The middle section of the film, which has the Creature in captivity, is nothing but Agar and Nelson bothering it. The underwater sequences are technically great–and Ricou Browning does a fabulous, uncredited job as the Creature in Revenge–but they’re boring. They’re boring from the start of the movie; Arnold immediately establishes there’s not going to be much artistry in the underwater thrills. There will be monster action, but not artistic monster action.

Strangely, the film coasts through pretty steadily until the Creature’s escape. Arnold never impresses too much–Revenge seems very hurried–but he does fine. Paiva’s awesome in the opening, Agar’s sturdy enough except when he’s got to romance Nelson, who’s likable without being particularly good (or bad). The middle section of the film promises something exciting. There’s nothing exciting in the third part. It feels like a different film, actually. Agar isn’t sturdy in this part, regardless of who he’s acting with. He’s barely conscious.

Revenge of the Creature should be better. But it’s got some solid fifties monster sequences thanks to Browning, Arnold and photographer Scotty Welbourne.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Martin Berkeley, based on a story by William Alland; director of photography, Scotty Melbourne; edited by Paul Weatherwax; produced by Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Prof. Clete Ferguson), Lori Nelson (Helen Dobson), John Bromfield (Joe Hayes), Grandon Rhodes (Jackson Foster), Dave Willock (Lou Gibson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).


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Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, Jack Arnold)

Almost all of Creature from the Black Lagoon is a compelling mix of science fiction, workplace drama and horror. The Creature makes a great “villain” because there’s nothing human about him (except maybe his fixation on leading lady Julie Adams) so it’s possible to both fear him and to understand leading man Richard Carlson’s scientific point of view.

The only place it falls apart is the finish, where the screenwriters and director Arnold feel the need for some excitement; they tack on a totally unnecessary action sequence.

The workplace drama elements are Carlson, Adams and Richard Denning (as their boss). Denning’s performance of a money hungry scientist who slowly loses it is outstanding. He sort of outdoes everyone else in the picture, except maybe Nestor Paiva. Paiva’s the captain of the ship taking these bickering ichthyologists on their exploration. The script constantly unveils something new (and unlikely) about his character, but Paiva essays it all beautifully.

As a director, Arnold embraces the exploration wonderment, juxtaposing it against the horror aspects in the picture. When the wonderment declines and the more thriller tone comes up, he does well with it too.

The film has outstanding photography from William E. Snyder and excellent music from its (uncredited) composers. The underwater photography gives it spectacle value, but Arnold and his crew make the land sections almost as good. The sets are great and the Creature’s makeup is fantastic.

Creature, thanks to Arnold, the cast and its smart script, is a rather fine film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, based on a story by Maurice Zimm; director of photography, William E. Snyder; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (David Reed), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), Richard Denning (Mark Williams), Antonio Moreno (Carl Maia), Whit Bissell (Edwin Thompson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE UNIVERSAL BACKLOT BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KRISTEN OF JOURNEYS IN CLASSIC FILM


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