Do you want the awesome first, or just the freakishly pathetic? Right, awesome it is. The Incredible Shrinking Man opened today in 1957, marking a high point of 1950s science fiction. The effects were astonishing at the time and still hold up quite well, while the script by Richard Matheson (based on his own novel) manages to fit existential questioning about the nature of our souls in the story about a guy who has to fight a giant spider over a piece of moldy cheese. And if you ever wondered whether your house cat would eat you if it got a chance, there’s a very scary answer for you here. Director Jack Arnold delivered a number of notable genre films of the era, but while his Creature from the Black Lagoon makes a game challenger, this one is still the best of his career.
The Conqueror, on the other hand, wasn’t the high point of anyone’s career. It premiered one year before The Incredible Shrinking Man and the waves of stink have yet to dissipate. Financed by Howard Hughes and starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan, it not only became a travesty to history and the Duke’s reputation in equal measures, but the shooting location stood just a couple of sand dunes away from a nuclear weapons testing site. In a not-at-all-suspicious coincidence, most of the principles involved — including Wayne and costar Susan Hayward — eventually died of cancer. Good times.