The Illustrated Man (1969)

Article #1764 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2006
Posting Date: 6-11-2006
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas

A wanderer encounters a stranger whose entire body is covered with illustrations that come alive and tell stories.

If there is any single author to whom I’m most sensitive in the way their work is adapted to the big screen, it is Ray Bradbury. At least part of this reason is due to the fact that he was my fantasist of choice throughout my youth, and that no other writer has ever quite conjured up that sense of magic that I get when I read him. As a result, I developed an enormous dislike for this adaptation of his anthology of short stories when I first saw it because I felt it exhibited none of the lyricism of his work.

Watching it again now, I would amend that statement only slightly. It does have moments where it catches a bit of that magic, but those moments are fleeting. It isn’t so much that the adaptations don’t follow the plots of the original stories; actually, of the four stories involved (framing story included), only the sequence based on “The Last Night of the World” fails to do so. My problem is more on the level of a betrayal of the spirit of Bradbury’s work. The movie is preoccupied with sex, has a streak of vulgarity, and is rather mean-spirited, and it is these touches that I find to be contrary to the spirit of Bradbury’s work. If you add to that the turgid pacing and the fact that the movie feels glum and morose, you can understand my reaction. Even at his darkest, there is a zest and joyfulness to Bradbury’s work; this movie is joyless. On a side note, Bradbury only agreed to sell the rights to this work if the director could get Steiger, Burt Lancaster or Paul Newman for the title role, and though Steiger does a good job, I would really have liked to have seen Lancaster in the role myself.

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