Some time ago, Willie (Robert Drivas) was walking and hitching to California to reach his family when he stopped to take a dip in a lake along the way. What he didn't know was that someone else had had the same idea, and they would meet presently: a drifter called Carl (Rod Steiger) who was distinctive in an unusual manner. When Willie did encounter him, he was wary as this man had an aggressive side about him, and the young fellow began to feel threatened. But Carl carried a Pomeranian dog with him in a sack, so how threatening could he be? The answer to that lay in the skin illustrations that covered his whole body...
A flop in its day, this attempt to beef up Ray Bradbury's book of short stories has gained a minor following since thanks to those who either were fans of its author or fans of its star, Steiger. He was supposedly very proud of his work in this, and had hoped his performance here would go down as one of his greats so was particularly disappointed when it was judged to be a failure, both artistically and financially. In truth, when seen now it looks to be one of those occasions where the actor was too close to the material to perceive that a measure of irony was necessary to get to the heart of Bradbury's series of tales; yes, take them seriously, but apply a lightness of touch to prevent them from seeming leaden.
Bradbury only had himself to blame as he had placed Steiger on his wish list of those stars he thought could do justice to his originals, but the results veered too far towards the self-important and overblown. Yet that's not to say that it was a total write off in regard to how diverting it was, as in that brooding style a measure of dread was worked up that operated fairly successfully in light of the twist endings of the plots that emerged. Willie is warned by Carl not to look too closely at his illustrations, although the fact that the older man goes about with his shirt off doesn't exactly make that easy. So whenever he becomes entranced by a certain picture - don't call them tattoos, Carl doesn't like it - a short story is shown.
The first of these is one we return to, and that's of how the title character came by his bodily adornments. According to him, a mysterious woman from the future (Claire Bloom) seduced him one day when he stumbled across her house, leaving him essentially cursed to wander the land until he finds her again, and kills her. Bloom turns up again in each of the three subsequent visions, all of which dramatise a tale from the book - the framing, Illustrated Man sections were far briefer on the page and considerably beefed up here. None are really that distinguished, but offer an interesting look at how serious science fiction was presented before Star Wars came along in the seventies.
So Steiger mopes around futuristic sets as the initial, sort of self-contained plots begin where he and Bloom portrayed the parents of two problem children who have set up their virtual reality playroom as an African veldt, complete with a pride of lions. You can see where this one's going from the first shot, but that's not the case with the next one, which doesn't really have a twist and is more about the endurance test it puts the characters through as a group of astronauts on a planet drenched in continuous rain gradually go mad and are picked off thanks to lacking the steely resolve of Steiger's colonel. Finally, he and Bloom play two parents who have to put their children to sleep to spare them the end of the world happening that evening; you can see where this is going as well, but this is probably the one with the most powerful ending. Trouble is, it's not half as thought-provoking as it thinks it is, and that moroseness of method does not make for much enjoyment, intriguing and sinister as it is. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.