I didn’t discover what a fine writer Ray Bradbury was before seeing the 1969 movie, The Illustrated Man, when I was a kid. Although I don’t write the same fantasy/sci-fi genres of fiction as Bradbury, I find myself empathizing with him in other ways: he was a prolific reader and writer from childhood, a fan of H.G. Wells and Edgar Allen Poe and a firm believer in the importance of public libraries in society, especially to those living on a budget. Among his many novels and short stories, his other notable books are Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, which were also filmed for film and TV, but The Illustrated Man remains my favorite. It was also the movie that made me a fan of Rod Steiger and the beautiful Claire Bloom. The novel is a collection of eighteen fantasy and sci-fi stories, of which only three (possibly due to budget and running time constrictions) are included in the movie:
The Veldt … parents fall victim to a sinister virtual-reality playroom they have installed for their spoilt children;
The Long Rain … a marooned group of astronauts who have crash-landed on a planet with constant torrential rain search for the oasis of a warm ‘Sun Dome’, but will they survive the journey or perish along the way?;
The Last Night of the World … society rulers believe they have been sent a sign predicting the end of the world and decide to spare children the horror to come by euthanasia.
The main plot that bookends these three sections is the story of a carnival worker, Carl (Rod Steiger). During one particularly hot day, he is at first befriended and then seduced by the enigmatic Felicia, who covers his body almost entirely with “skin illustrations”. The difference being that these are not normal tattoos. Carl is a hobo, travelling the roads, when we encounters and tells his story to another traveller, Willie (Robert Drivas), telling him that he intends to murder Felicia for cursing him with the skin illustrations. At first, Willie is sceptical, but ignores Carl’s warnings not to stare at the illustrations too intently because they have a hypnotic effect on the observer, coming to life and recounting horrific stories. Worse still is the bare patch Felicia left on Carl’s shoulder, which predicts the future for all who dare to look into it – but the predictions are always bad; showing how they will eventually be in their old age, or how they will die.
Although the movie may be regarded as dated, especially with the 1960’s fashion trends and that era’s view of how futuristic societies may be, the acting is excellent from the three leads and there is a palpable atmosphere of suspense and threat throughout the movie, generated from Rod Steiger’s masterful and ferocious performance. The scene in which Carl turns to find Felicia’s farmhouse has suddenly vanished, leaving only his clothes draped on a chair still remains chilling.
However, final credit has to go to author, Ray Bradbury, who penned the original source novel that inspired the fine movie. Like many of the greatest authors, he was a true visionary.
I hope future generations discover and enjoy his work as much as I have.
In memory of Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012).