The Illustrated Man (1969)

Director: Jack Smight
Starring: Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas . USA . 1h 43m

Based on the Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951)

A bold adaptation of an amazing groundbreaking anthology book from the legendary Ray Bradbury, really this film couldn’t go wrong, especially when you mix Rod Steiger into the mix, the classic actor is enormous in any role he puts his mind and body into and was a dramatic baluster in the many roles he played in this sometimes difficult science fiction movie.

The original book was a collection of  18 Science Fiction Stories, only 3 made it into the film, sadly the least provocative but certainly not the least shocking. The Veldt, The Long Rain and The Last Night of the World, along with some of the wrap around story were all adapted using the same three characters.  For me the movie was very influential, as a child I marveled over the amazing illustrations especially the rose in the palm, the first tattoo, although I chose a slightly different tattoo when I eventually got to that rather sensitive area myself. But even after seeing the demise of a once strong man, the lovely Felicia and her amazing mysteries still enchant audiences today.

A gruff carny wanders away from his amusement spot to see what the countryside around him has to offer, he chances on a gorgeous woman named Felicia who offers him some skin illustrations NOT tattoos, something beautiful for the skin but there’s a hidden price.

Years later the same carny is now a wandering man, with his tiny dog that he keeps in a burlap sack, they befriend another traveller, Willie (Drivas). Mystified about the man’s skin illustrations he slowly uncovers the truth about the mysterious woman who performed the artwork, a sort of mystical time traveling witch according to Carl, who warns the man not to look too closely or the illustrations will come alive.

Obviously he does, three times and we’re subjecting to three terrifying stories from the future, all featuring the tiny but versatile crew. The three selected stories were good but not great choices, while there were limits to what could have been created for the era, the choice was also very safe. Bradbury was a visionary not only of science but of society, “The Other Foot”, is one of my favourites from the collection, it sees that black people have had enough of being persecuted and all move to Mars, eventually after massive wars, the white survivors head to Mars as refugees, a blistering story but sadly it didn’t make the cut, but so many more stories could have been added into the meandering film. Instead we have…

The Veldt – An unfeeling sterile society raises monstrous children who unleash their anger in their virtual reality “playroom” and their favourite setting it the plains down in africa … “bless”

The Long Rain – A group of astronauts crash on a planet that constantly rains. Between their over domineering leader and the constant rain their search for sanctuary in a Sunroom seems a long distant dream but first they have to endure the maddening and relently pounding of the rain.

The Last Night of the World – the world’s population has whittled down to a few thousand families, upon being given information that the world is about to end a father has to make a choice to save or spare his children…

Meandering is the keyword here, he main character is werely meandering around trying to find the woman who persecuted him with tattoos, and she’s wandering the universe leaving inked people and stories as she goes and the film itself just meanders around a couple of tales, it’s not really showing itself to being a horror or thriller, just pulling random aspects together and jumbling them up.

I absolutely adore the film despite its faults, lack of direction and very few merits, it’s always had an atmosphere that I find alluring, much like Felicia’s enticing parlour.  It’s surprising with the dismal outcome of each story and Carl that I somehow wanted to get tattoos after watching this film..

While being a good effort but missing a lot of the energy and wonderment from the original stories it’s still something special in 60’s science fiction the only thing that could better it, is for a film or series to remake all the stories.

Rating: 8/10

R: Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Journey to the far side of the sun (1969), X : The Man With X-Ray Eyes (1963)
5s: Rod Steiger

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