It can be difficult to fit into a short screening intro all the fascinating details our Research Associate, Mike Quintero, uncovers about the films we show — so we’ll be sharing some of his raw research notes here on the blog, in no particular order and without much editing, because it seems a shame to keep them to ourselves. Thanks Mike!
This week’s research notes are about: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (Jack Arnold, 1957), screened on July 6, 2022 in a 35mm print from Universal as part of CFS Season 28.
★ Taglines ★
“Hour by hour / he gets smaller / .. smaller … smaller / and moment by moment the suspense mounts!”
“THE MOST INCREDIBLE STORY — EVER!”
“A fascinating adventure into the unknown!”
“Victim of weird mist! / Science is baffled! / Deadly spider attacks!”
“ASTOUNDING! / EXCITING! / UNFORGETTABLE!”
“The most astounding adventure imaginable!”
“PLEASE! KEEP THE SECRET OF ITS SHOCKER ENDING … No One Seated During Last 7 Minutes”
There was also a related ad for Butternut Bread with the somewhat underwhelming tagline: “Up to expectations.” The ad goes on: “You’ll find pert Randy Stuart, co-starring in ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man,’ up to expectations. She’s scrumptious! Up to your expectations, too, is famous Hollywood Special Formula Bread, a secret blend of 16 grain and vegetable flours, it’s a real treat to eat … meal after meal. Baked without shortening, this sensible bread is a must on the menus of millions of beauty-conscious women. Insist on the genuine.”
Grant Williams was pretty straightforward about how he was cast in the lead role of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN when talking to the Washington Post’s Richard L. Coe: “Another actor was supposed to make ‘Shrinking Man’ but it soon became clear that at his salary the long shooting schedule would raise impossible costs. So they gave me the tricky part. I welcomed it at far less than the $2500 per week they’d have had to pay that star. By the time this picture’s played around the world, a lot of people will know my face and that’s a hurdle for any young actor.” (According to Coe’s article in the Post, the production of the film took one year and three weeks.)
Coe also described the process by which Williams would be shown interacting “with a cat, a spider, and other minute horrors”: “First off, these creatures were filmed walking across a floor or a box. Meticulous note was taken of the time each movement took. Then, working on a black velvet stage with furniture built to precise proportions, Williams had to time each movement of his body as though he were tangling with cat, spider or whatnot. These pictures were then put into a double frame and, presto, there’s Williams, a few inches high, being beaten up by cat, spider, whatnot.”
The New York Times’ review (credited to R.W.N.) noted that, early in the film, and long before the end, “the ‘incredible’ of the title take on an unintended meaning” and that “unless a viewer is addicted to freakish ironies, the unlikely spectacle of Mr. Williams losing an inch of height each week, while his wife, Randy Stuart, looks on helplessly, will become tiresome before Universal has emptied its lab of science-fiction cliches.”
Mae Tinee’s review of the film in the Tribune was pretty scathing, too: “Here’s a real little monster in the science-fiction world, and incredible is just the word for it. Oversize sets and trick photography are extremely obvious and utterly unconvincing … those with a taste for such nonsense may flock to this movie. But if you let small children see it and they wake up screaming, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN opened in Chicago on April 17, 1957 at the Roosevelt Theater (State and Washington, around 1,500 seats) as part of a double bill with LAST OF THE GUNMEN with George Montgomery (promoted as “DRAGNET of the Badlands!” — the TV show “Dragnet” was then #11 in the ratings with an audience over over 12 million viewers, and had been as high as #2 three years before).
That week, Chicago-area moviegoers could have also seen Sidney Poitier in EDGE OF THE CITY at the Woods, Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum in HEAVEN KNOWS, MR ALLISON at the Oriental, James Stewart in THE SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS at the Chicago, Henry Fonda in 12 ANGRY MEN at the State-Lake, and Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in FUNNY FACE at the United Artists.
There was also the sixth month of a special extended engagement of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS at the McVickers; David Niven in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, presented on a “reserved seat basis” at Todd’s Cinestage; as well as Lowell Thomas’ SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD (“as seen through the greatest wonder: Cinerama”) at the Palace (billed as “the only theatre within 300 miles of Chicago where Cinerama will be shown / there is still only one Cinerama”)
Finally, there was the “Midwest Premiere” of FEAR STRIKES OUT (starring Anthony Perkins and Karl Malden) as the opening show at the Garrick Theater, built in 1892, and newly reopened as a movie theater after seven years of serving as a television studio, and a long history of live performance before that.
CGI visualization of the Garrick as it would have appeared when it opened can be seen here.
The opening day newspaper ads suggested no expense was spared (“Another Great Showplace For Hollywood’s Finest Motion Pictures!” / “Beautifully Redecorated” / “New Sound and Wide Screen, New Air-Conditioning, New Luxury Seats”).
Despite this, the theater would close and be demolished by 1961, despite a vigorous campaign organized by photographer Richard Nickel. (The loss of this building and — a few years later — the Chicago Stock Exchange, both collaborations of architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, are credited with sparking an architectural preservation movement in Chicago which would go on to successfully save other buildings.)
Within a few months of the release of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, Walter Winchell noted that there would be a forthcoming “Amazing Colossal Man” film, since the first film had “clicked.”
In October, A.H. Weiler welcomed this second film in the New York Times: “The movies have come full circle and it’s enough to freeze the marrow of a customer’s bones. Several months ago, New Yorkers were offered a grisly little item titled, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man.’ Now comes word that on Friday Paramount will unveil ‘The Amazing Colossal Man.’ Vital Statistics: ‘Shrinking Man’, just a speck. ‘Colossal Man,’ sixty-five feet.”
Tagline for this successor film: “SAVAGE GIANT ON A BLOOD-MAD RAMPAGE! / GROWING … ! / GROWING … ! / to a GIANT … ! / to a MONSTER … ! / WHEN WILL IT STOP!
R.W.N. (who reviewed SHRINKING MAN for the Times) came back for this one, too: “Not long ago, there was a one-gimmick science-fiction film called ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man.’ It told of a fellow who kept getting smaller and smaller until a gust of wind whisked him off into desolate space, much to the consternation of his wife. If anyone wanted to dwell on the prospect then, he could have foreseen that this gimmick would be placed in reverse and that soon a guy who kept getting bigger would loom over the local film scene. Just such a figure arrived on schedule at the Paramount … this new film does not offer much in the way of development of the genre. In fact the ‘Amazing’ man is amazingly similar to the ‘Shrinking’ one. Radioactivity is again the culprit that knocks the genes out of whack and has this new freak sprouting up at the rate of eight feet a day. And there’s a girl who just can’t face the impossibility of her love for him, and so forth.”