Another story of man in time, space, and the quagmire of existential identity is Jack Arnold’s long-out-of-print The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) that, widely available on eBay in fairly decent DVR editions (most of them packaged with a trailer narrated by Orson Welles, on the Universal set while shooting Touch of Evil), has been denied a proper DVD release because of some stupid thing or another.
Because The Incredible Shrinking Man is an extraordinary film – perhaps the pinnacle of the 50s science fiction cycle in that it addresses theology from a Kirkegaardian sense (hero Scott Carter must shrink to escape his prison) but also the disintegration of the myth of the fifties suburban utopia. Carter has it all: beautiful wife, beautiful house, beautiful car, and, apparently, a yacht where, one afternoon, he’s exposed to a radioactive cloud that mixes with a pesticide on his skin and sends him on a journey inward. With one of the most unusual endings in film, Carter first loses every single accoutrement of what it meant to be a man in the popular consciousness at the time (and always): he loses his ability to please his wife (a wedding ring slides off his finger in the film’s most loaded metaphor), becomes literally a child all of tantrums and long reaches, loses his job, runs out on his wife, is attacked by his housecat, and is, finally, forgotten by friend, family, and lover alike in a dark basement that he describes as “a vast, primordial plain.” Reduction of man to his basest elements, Carter nonetheless proclaims that he will master his new environment as he did his last – Nietzche rears his grizzled head even here among the spiders and the matchheads – but Carter keeps shrinking, and The Incredible Shrinking Man becomes one of the most thoughtful and philosophically rich pictures in American flickers.
Besides, it has a spider-fight that Peter Jackson appears to have at least borrowed from heavily for The Return of the King’s Frodo vs. Shelob.