Notes: Warner Brothers–Seven Arts.
Directed: Jack Smight
Produced: Howard B. Kreitsek and Ted Mann
Screenplay: Howard B. Kreitsek
Based on fiction by Ray Bradbury
Photography: Philip Lathrop
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Dog Training: Frank Weatherwax (Lassie’s father)

Carl / Father / Colonel: Rod Steiger
Felicia / Mother: Claire Bloom
Willie / Will / Williams: Robert Drivas
Pickard: Don Dubbins
Simmons: Jason Evers
Peke: Pogo

Summary: A woman’s narrative voice tells us that when we “see beyond our own time” that “there are no proven answers.” In 1933, a hitchhiker dismounts a model-T on a rural road and swims in a lake. A wrathful Carl invades his camp and asks if he is “hoboing.” Willie is traveling from New York to California for a job and to be near his sister. Carl rifles Willie’s bag and keeps a 14-year-old dog in his own. When he removes his glove we see tattooing (although Carl flies into a rage at that term, insisting they are “skin illustrations”).

Carl shows a photo and asks if Willie has ever seen a house with the sign “Skin Illustrations” out front. He will kill the woman who lives there. They discuss Labor Day and Carl viciously kills a garter snake. When asked why he would want to kill anyone, Carl removes his jacket and we see that he is tattooed almost everywhere. If one looks too long at them, they come alive. This is his private hell. People see their future, or themselves shriveling towards death, and don’t like him. As for the woman who did this, “maybe she went back into the future.” He explains that he was traveling with a carnival, on the sexual prowl, and was invited into her house for lemonade. At the center of his hand she tattooed a flower: “a rose from Felicia.” Carl now feels it when these tattoos come alive — they squirm.

“She had lived in the past and she had lived in the future and she put it all on me.” Elsewhere he has lions in Africa. But he had said something to her to prompt this illustration. We transport to the first skin illustration story, “The Veldt,” where two parents discover that their children have been abusing their privileges to the” nursery” — a device that creates virtual reality play environments, originally intended to allow children to work off their natural hostility. Lions feeding in Africa is going too far. The father considers the ennui resulting from this futuristic life where children can fulfill their wants with the flip of a switch and where there’s “nothing left to do but body functions.” People work only six months out of the year. A friend who functions as a mental health counselor on the videoscreen says that the Minister of Mental Health has been having problems with these nurseries, and experimenting with children is seen as objectionable to the father. The two loud brats deny going to Africa; instead they frequent a medieval castle. The counselor, Will, visits the nursery’s Africa and wonders what the lions are eating. Clearly the children are not releasing but embracing destructive thoughts, and the nursery should be torn down. The boy is pissed, and that night the children call out to the parents in apparent terror. The parents go into the nursery and are attacked by lions. The next day, Will visits, enters the nursery, sees the children, realizes what they have done, and is calmly served coffee by them. “Oh my God.”

The coffee serves as transition back to Carl, who mentions lilacs and drifts back to the tattooing: “She knew what she was doing.” When he was partly tattooed, she had asked when he was coming back for more. He had said he’d be a freak, but she says he will be beautiful and that he will matter. He constantly claims not to like “small things” such as insects, ticks. So she tattooed a rocket on him, and we transition into the next story, “The Long Rain.”

A group of shipwrecked astronauts have been wandering on a rain-drenched planet for at least six days, looking for a sun-dome for shelter. The Colonel insists: “Keep moving and you keep alive.” And “No talk.” But they wander upon their contaminated ship where they started from a week ago. The Colonel zaps one of his men who has gone crazy and tried to retrieve some contaminated maps. They find a sun-dome, but a crappy destroyed one, so another of the men drowns himself in the rain. Williams and the Colonel are the only ones left, and Williams confesses to being deaf. The Colonel promises a dry, warm, sunny place with women. Williams cynically dismisses this promise of “space-whores” and accuses the Colonel: “You destroy!” He kills himself with a laser. The Colonel immediately finds a sun-dome, labelled United States of Earth, and is welcomed by a woman (who looks like the Skin Illustrator).

Willie cannot leave now that’s he’s hooked by the tattoos. He insists Carl is “never going to find her.”

The third story, “The Last World,” takes place in the distant future when the 2193 men who make up the World Forum (“all the male population”) have had the same vision or dream and recognized that “tonight’s the last night of the world” due to some unspecified cosmic event. Back in 4187 the earth was enveloped in a gas cloud and the only survivors were those who dwelt in the mountains. “This time no one will survive.” Husband Carl and wife Felicia agonize. The children are not to be told, but rather “put to sleep” with pills which will kill them peacefully. When the mother awakens alone and realizes that “it didn’t happen,” she enters the children’s room and realizes the father had killed them after all.

Willie accuses Carl: “You. You killed them. You killed your own children.” “You’re evil.” “You killed them! … You kill people!” Carl relates that once he was totally illustrated he awoke to hearing his name called, but not only did the woman disappear, but she took the house with her — all except the kitchen chair. “She went back into the future.” The future can be read in the blank space on his back. Willie sees his death by strangulation in a fire. When Carl is sleeping, he bashes him with a rock and runs away. Carl rises and lumbers after him as the dog barks.

Commentary: All the concern about kids, who come across here as nothing more than manifestations of a poorly defined but sanctimonious abstraction, is distracting. The stories and the frame are enigmatic though, and therefore successfully intriguing.

What is Rod Steiger so angry about perpetually?