Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. (Phoenix time) the greatest TV channel ever, Turner Classic Movies, shows a weird one: 1969’s The Illustrated Man. It’s from the 1951 short-story collection by the great Ray Bradbury, framed by the device of a hobo covered from the neck down with body art, supposedly by an old woman from the future, that comes to life and tells stories if you stare at it.

As an adaptation of this famous anthology, the movie, directed by Jack Smight, is a travesty, but it’s a bizarre, occasionally disturbing travesty. Only three of the stories are presented, each starring Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom. They all kind of suck, although the middle one, “The Long Rain,” about space-wrecked astronauts struggling through the perpetual torrential downpour on the planet Venus, is a little bit cool. The real focus is on the frame story, featuring Bloom as the tattoo artist, Steiger, at his hammiest—which is saying something—as her human canvas, and Robert Drivas as the poor schmuck who meets him on the road. There’s also a very cute, but very strange, little Pomeranian as Steiger’s familiar.

What’s really striking about this film, however, is how restrained the ink on Steiger looks by today’s standards. The designs, by Western artist James E. Reynolds, are terrific, but the idea that they make Steiger “a freak,” as he says, is now hilarious—if only by virtue of his head and neck being un-inked, you wouldn’t look twice at this guy nowadays if he was your tax attorney.

RIP to the excellent, eccentric character actor Luke Askew, passed on at 80, whose career ranged, rather apolitically, from The Green Berets to Easy Rider, and with whom, I note from his obit, I have the honor to share a birthday.

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