The Illustrated Man (1969)


(director: Jack Smight; screenwriters: Ray Bradbury (book)/Howard B. Kreitsek; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Rod Steiger (Carl), Claire Bloom (Felicia), Robert Drivas (Willie), Don Dubbins (Pickard), Jason Evers (Simmons), Christine Matchett (Anna), Tim Weldon (John); Runtime: 103; Warner Bros.; 1969)

“A peculiar sci-fi film that was loosely adapted from a Ray Bradbury book of short stories.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A peculiar sci-fi film that was loosely adapted from a Ray Bradbury book of short stories, that unfortunately loses much in translation because of Jack Smight’s lackluster direction. It presents an interesting relationship among the three principle characters: Carl (Steiger) is the man whose whole body from the neck down is covered by fabulously colorful tattoos, Felicia (Bloom) is the witch-like mystery woman who did the skin illustrations, and Willie (Drivas) is a hitch-hiker heading to California to get a job whom Carl meets by a camping site. Their lives become entangled in this fantasy which covers territory in the past, present, and future.

Carl is a bum who keeps his pet dog in a bag. He sneaks up and frightens Willie by his campfire. Carl is looking for the house of the woman who made him a freak show, as he wants to kill her. He tells the youngster of how these skin illustrations ruined his life, and of how they come to life if one stares at them. If one looks at the only bare spot on his body, they can see the future — including their own death. The woman illustrator vanished, he says, ‘back in the future,’ leaving him to become an outcast wanderer looking only for revenge.

Willie stares at the tattoos and starts to have visions of the three of them together in the three stories. All the stories have the theme of love betrayed, with the victims changing with each tale. It also seems to be a retelling of the Adam and Eve tale.

In the first story, Willie is a mental health counselor for the married couple Felicia and Carl. The couple have two kids, John and Anna, who play outside with African lions in their backyard. Inside they inhabit a sterile ultra-mod living quarters, painted in all-white. The second tale has Carl as a colonel lost in a jungle in a constant driving rain. He’s with two other survivors from their crash-landing, Pickard and Simmons, on this unnamed planet. There only chance for survival is finding shelter in a sun dome, located 20 miles away. In the final story, Carl and Felicia are married and have two children, John and Anna. Carl has just returned from a world forum attended by all the 2,193 males in the world. They all had the same dream: that tonight is the last night of the world.

The film returns to the present, as Willie stares at Carl’s blank body spot and looks at his horrible future. The overall result is less than grand but the film before it disappointed, did provide some intriguing moments. Though Steiger’s performance was grating, as he had only one emotion as an overbearing bully.