228. The Illustrated Man (US 1968)

                       "Ah fuckin love the Toon, me, man!"

director: Jack Smight

Starring: Rod Steiger, Robert Drivas, Clare Bloom

Cinematography: Philip A. Lathrop

Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Script: Howard B.Kreitsek

Book: Ray Bradbury

Make-Up/'Skin Illustrations': George Bau, James E. Reynolds

Fact: The film uses three of the 18 stories from Bradbury's original collection; one of the others 'The Rocket man' was the inspiration for Bernie Taupin's lyrics for Elton John's hit of (almost) the same name.

Fact: Bau and Reynolds' temporary tattooing of Steiger's skin gained them a Guinness Book of Records entry for the longest time applying film make up.

Lie: Rod Steiger's chiropodist was impressed with the care and attention that the actor paid to his heels, toes and soles. He was heard to remark "That's neat, that's neat, that's neat, that's neat - I really love your Steiger feet." When British song writers Nikki Chinn and Mike Chapman read about this, they immediately set about writing a hit song for pop group Mud. Six hours later, they put the finishing touches to a million selling hit -  'It'll Be Lonely This Christmas'.

The tattoos of an 'Illustrated Man' have their own stories to tell.

Summary

Willie (blame Bradbury), a young drifter meets Carl (an older drifter), and they begin to talk. The older man takes off his coat to reveal a body covered in what appear to be tattoos. The younger man is constantly reminded that these are not to be referred to as tattoos: they are "skin illustrations". When the younger man looks closely at a particular illustration, a story comes to life. In one story (The Long Rain), a group of astronauts find themselves on a rain planet and are searching for sun domes to escape the noise and maddening effects of the constant rainfall. In another (The Veldt) a mother and father control their children through a high-tech adventure simulation room, and in the final tale (The Last Night of the World) a man and woman prepare for that which is suggested by the story title.

Carl tells Willie not to look at the one blank space on his torso as he might not like what he sees.

Ray Bradbury's science fiction/horror fiction is OK, but not exactly great. There have been no really outstanding versions of his work made for 'the big screen'. It's difficult to understand the genesis of this film. The three out of the eighteen stories chosen are not even the best in the collection (particularly The Veldt) and the linking device of The Illustrated Man himself is not so important in the book as it is in the film. The three main actors move from story to story, which shouldn't really be a big problem given the nature of the material, but it does  make it difficult for the audience to immerse themselves in the fiction (s) and to forget that they are  watching a film. It also gives the impression of watching a cheapskate play where the actors are doubling and trebling up with a range of characters just to further emphasise the shitty nature of the production. (See all Shakespeare productions performed by 'travelling theatre companies' - "Fuck me! I thought 'Albany' was dead! What's he doing as that French soldier?")

Two of the stories (The Veldt and The Last Night) are duds, but the linking device of Willie and Carl and the excellent 'The Long Rain' are well worth watching.

In 'The Long Rain', Steiger plays the commanding officer of a group of astronauts who find themselves stranded on a planet (unnamed - Venus in the book) where the rainfall is incessant and never ending. He tells his crew (including a young subaltern played by Drivas) not to put their helmets on because the patter of the rain will drive them mad and/or deaf. The astronauts seek shelter in the Sun Domes which are dotted around the planet. After hours of marching they arrive at a Dome only to find that the natives have destroyed it. (shades of "some vandals have broken into the Blue Peter Garden") and some of the troop feel compelled to put on their headgear to shelter from the constant soaking.

I won't spoil the ending.

Steiger was (generally) a terrible actor: mannered, bombastic, silly and obviously full of himself - not that all actors aren't narcissists, but there are ways of disguising the fact - but he's Ok in this film (Bradbury would only sell the rights if Steiger, Burt Lancaster or Charlton Heston played the lead). Steiger's performance in In the Heat of the Night is one of the worst to win the best actor Oscar; but having said that the Academy awarded the same category Oscar the next year to Cliff Robertson for THE worst performance in the execrable Charly - the first film version of Daniel Keyes' excellent 'Flowers For Algernon' and a film that has rightly been consigned to the unflushed lavatory of film history.

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Clare Bloom: doesn't get 'them' out, so no need for the pause button.

This is another of those late sixties films (like The Swimmer) which some people hate with a vengeance - there's something about the hippy/psychedelic influence on many films of the period which is just unpalatable to the point to the point of being emetic.

Worth 'a watch', then, but It might be best to record this film and have the fast forward button at the ready.

 

6/10