Tag Archives: William Schallert

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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Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, Joseph Sargent)

Colossus is a pre-disaster movie, in the Irwin Allen sense. It has a lot in common with films like The Andromeda Strain and The Satan Bug. The problem is established and then the film’s story is an attempt to resolve it. It’s a little less character-oriented than the Allen disaster formula–Colosuss doesn’t have much lead-in, it sort of just gets started after the opening sequence–but that lack of character development makes the cast all the more important. The viewer’s never going to have a chance to get to know these people; the casting has to be superb.

And Colossus is perfectly cast. Eric Braeden–who I just discovered ended up on a soap (and I even recognize him)–turns in a likable, funny leading man performance. He’s always believable as the world’s foremost computer designer, but he still can get away with being a traditional (and excellent) leading man. Susan Clark’s second-billed and sort of around for half the movie in the background before she gets to take a more central role and she’s got some fantastic moments. I figured–based on that Planet of the Apes movie he was in–Braeden would be good. So the real surprise is Gordon Pinsent as the President. Too often, movie presidents aren’t convincing–or they’re played by big name actors who assume their recognizable name will make them a good president-in-crisis. Pinsent does have a lot of good material–he’s second lead for the first half–but his performance is rather impressive.

Colossus is a from-the-top crisis story. We don’t really get to see how regular people are reacting, which has become the norm today. Everyone in the film has been on the phone with the President of the United States. What director Sargent and screenwriter James Bridges have to do is make a film without special effects–we don’t see any of the disasters–work from a couple rooms. There’s the White House and there’s Braeden’s computer lab. The film could practically work as a play.

Sargent’s widescreen composition is peculiar and effective. He started on TV and he tends to use the Panavision frame to horizontally expand what would otherwise be television composition. The result is unexpected. It’s like Sargent’s composition ends up looking like deliberate, thoughtful art, when it appears to just be a pragmatic approach to widescreen filmmaking.

Bridges’s script is competent and unambitious. Colossus is from a novel–which probably followed most of the same story beats–so all Bridges has to do is make it play right. And, given how the beats develop, it’d be impossible not to. There’s some character development, left nicely with Braeden and Clark, but a lot of the script is just perfunctory. That mechanical approach ends up hurting Colossus, because there’s no sense of anything escalating. Eventually, the movie just stops. I figured there were another fifteen minutes, but no, it was end credit time.

Perceiving the passage of time in the story is partially Bridges’s fault–three days pass without acknowledgment, a problem in a story set over a specific period–but a lot of it lies on Michel Colombier’s score. It’s anti-climatic and rote. Colombier tries for melodrama and ends up wasting a lot of time.

Colossus is a boring and intriguing film. Even with the narrative distance, the characters’ dilemmas are compelling. And, at just after the halfway point, when the computer taking over the world starts talking, it gets real funny. Not dumb funny, smart funny. But still real funny. It sort of suggests the film could have cut fifteen minutes and run another thirty and it would have turned out better.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by James Bridges, based on a novel by D.F. Jones; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Stanley Chase; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Braeden (Dr. Charles Forbin), Susan Clark (Dr. Cleo Markham), Gordon Pinsent (The President), William Schallert (CIA Director Grauber), Leonid Rostoff (Russian Chairman), Georg Stanford Brown (Dr. John F. Fisher), Willard Sage (Dr. Blake), Alex Rodine (Dr. Kuprin), Martin E. Brooks (Dr. Jefferson J. Johnson) and Marion Ross (Angela Fields).


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