Posts Tagged ‘Ray Bradbury’

While preparing Richard Matheson on Screen, I had some very enjoyable correspondence with Christopher Landry, who produced the soundtrack CD for the Matheson-scripted miniseries of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, released on the Airstrip One label in 2002. Chris was kind enough to give me permission to quote some material from his excellent CD liner notes, and recently sent me the following, which he has generously allowed me to reproduce here verbatim:

“I wanted to let you know that I finally obtained a copy of your excellent book, Richard Matheson on Screen. Reading it cover to cover, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Congratulations on a job well done!

“While you only asked me about The Martian Chronicles, I have a couple of other tidbits of information that you might find of interest…

“First, regarding What Dreams May Come—I was an assistant director on that film (though I think I am credited as ‘producer’s assistant’ because they didn’t want to pay union wages). During the prep of the film in 1996-1997 and up until very close to the time of shooting, we were told that Annette Bening was cast in the role of Annie. Not sure what happened, but Annabella Sciorra seemed to be very much a last-minute replacement. Also, [German filmmaker] Werner Herzog’s cameo in the film [as part of the “sea of faces”] came initially through a request to use footage he had shot in Kuwait during the first Gulf War of the burning oil fields. This was intended for use in a documentary that was ultimately shelved when the similar IMAX Fires of Kuwait came out first. Herzog’s footage was used as VFX plate elements in many of the Hell scenes in What Dreams. It turned out that Herzog was a big fan of Matheson’s book and was eager to do a cameo when [director] Vincent Ward offered it.

“Second, about The Last Man on Earth—there has always been debate about which portions of the film were directed by Sidney Salkow and which were directed by Ubaldo Ragona. There was an Italian DVD boxed set of this film released [c.] 2008 that as a bonus feature shows a number of scenes in split-screen showing a comparison of Salkow’s and Ragona’s direction of the same scene. There are numerous differences, but essentially it’s the same story. There is also a unique bonus feature where you can scroll around a map of Rome, showing the various filming locations used in the film, with then-and-now photos and a clip from the film showing each location.

“Maybe you know about all of the above, but if not maybe it is of interest. Again, great job on the book.”

Actually, I didn’t know about ANY of that, and wish I had in time to use it in the book, but better late than never. Thanks, Chris!

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On the occasion of Kurt Neumann’s 103rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website (revised with corrections, addenda, and additional links on July 29, 2017).

Originally published in the June 1957 issue of Playboy (then an outlet for outstanding short fiction by the likes of Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson), George Langelaan’s “The Fly” won the magazine’s Best Fiction Award, and the rights were immediately acquired by Twentieth Century-Fox.  The story was faithfully adapted by first-time screenwriter James Clavell, later the author of the bestsellers Shogun and Tai-Pan.

Producer-director Neumann (1908-1958) had considerable experience in Hollywood, but very little in the SF genre, although he is notorious for his low-budget quickie Rocketship X-M (1950), which he also wrote.  Rushed into production to cash in on the publicity surrounding Destination Moon (1950), it beat producer George Pal’s more serious film into theaters by several months.

Fox financed and released the low-budget output from Robert L. Lippert’s Regal Films, including Neumann’s previous black-and-white genre efforts, She Devil and Kronos (both 1957).  But The Fly was given the full studio treatment, with lush color cinematography by Karl Struss, who shared an Oscar for Sunrise (1927) and was nominated for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).

Leading man Al Hedison would soon be better known as David Hedison, under which name he starred for several seasons opposite Richard Basehart on Irwin Allen‘s evergreen 1960s SF series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Hedison also has the distinction of being the first actor to play James Bond’s CIA pal, Felix Leiter, twice, in Live and Let Die (1973) and License to Kill (1989).

Third-billed Vincent Price already had one classic horror role under his belt, in House of Wax (1953), and soon came to dominate the genre for decades to come, most notably in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the ‘60s.  (Blessed with a self-deprecating sense of humor, he liked to relate the story of an overeager fan who mistook him for the title character in The Fly.)

The film starts as Helene Delambre (lovely Patricia Owens) summons her brother-in-law, François (Price), and admits to crushing her husband André (Hedison) in a hydraulic press—not once, but twice—yet won’t say why.  After finding André’s lab wrecked, and hearing their son Philippe (Charles Herbert) refer to a “special” fly, François returns to Helene to elicit the truth.

André had rashly used himself as a guinea pig to test his experimental matter transmitter, unaware that a fly accompanied him into the disintegrator.  When he emerged in the reintegrator, he had the head and arm of an oversized fly, and vice-versa, although Neumann wisely maintains the suspense by keeping André’s altered appearance beneath a black hood for much of the film.

Passing notes from his locked lab to Helene, André explains that he has had an accident, and seeks a fly with a white head, not knowing that Philippe had already caught such a fly and been unwittingly made to release it by Helene.  André tells her that his will is deteriorating in favor of the fly’s animal nature and, fearing for her safety, threatens to do away with himself.

Although her efforts to recapture the fly have failed, Helene persuades André to try going through the transmitter once more without it, and when he emerges, she optimistically yanks the hood from his head.  Only then is the work of Fox’s makeup artist, Ben Nye, revealed in all its glory, while in an equally memorable shot, Helene is shown from the fly’s multiple perspective.

Wrecking his lab and burning his notes, André orders Helene to kill the fly, if found, and to obliterate the evidence of his transformation in the press; his arm falls out on the first attempt, so poor Helene must repeat the process.  Not surprisingly, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) thinks she is insane, and arrests her…until Philippe summons Charas and François to the garden.

There, they find the fly trapped in a spider web, and Charas mercifully crushes it with a rock as the arachnid advances on its prey, which pitifully screams, “Help me!”  This scene still provides a jolt in many a viewer, although Price and Marshall literally had to act it out back to back, as they found themselves completely unable to deliver their dialogue with straight faces.

Sadly, Neumann died in between the premiere and the general release of The Fly, which became one of Fox’s biggest hits for that year, and earned a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation.  Its success demanded an immediate sequel, although Return of the Fly (1959) was downgraded to a black-and-white cheapie written and directed by Edward L. Bernds.

The sequel devolved onto Lippert’s outfit and—along with The Alligator People (1959), with which it was double-billed—was among their first productions after Regal was renamed Associated Producers Incorporated (API…hmmm).  Rewatching this recently, I had a micro-epiphany when I recognized the music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter as also having been used in The Last Man on Earth (1964), which coincidentally was one of the last API productions; sure wish I’d known that when I wrote Richard Matheson on Screen.

In light of his decades-long association with the Three Stooges, Bernds may seem an odd choice to helm a sequel to The Fly.  But his lengthy filmography does include the occasional, if undistinguished, SF film, such as World Without End (1956), Space Master X-7, the cult classic Queen of Outer Space (both 1958), and the Jules Verne adaptation Valley of the Dragons (1961).

After a reporter accosts Philippe at Helene’s funeral, this unearthing of family skeletons forces François to reveal the truth and show him André’s lab at the Delambre Frères foundry.  His intended cautionary tale has the opposite effect of increasing his nephew’s determination to follow in Dad’s footsteps, and Philippe essentially blackmails the dubious François into backing him financially by threatening to unload his half of the family business at any cost.

Bernds is a little sloppy with the details:  in the original, André’s lab (reportedly standing sets utilized in the sequel) is in his home rather than the foundry, and since Philippe soon relocates it to the family manse anyway, the change seems pointless.  Similarly, 15 years are said to have intervened, which would make the sequel set in 1973, and although Philippe is now played by the age-appropriate Brett Halsey, the only returning cast member, Price, looks about the same.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, illness prevented Marshall from reprising his role, rewritten as Charas’s colleague Inspector Beecham (John Sutton); script cuts supposedly also removed unspecified elements that had originally attracted Price to the project.

Hired as Philippe’s assistant, Dr. Alan Hinds (David Frankham, who appeared in Matheson‘s Master of the World and Tales of Terror) is revealed as fugitive killer Ronald Holmes, who plans to sell the technology using mortuary-based crony Max Berthold (big Dan Seymour, a literal heavy in several Bogart classics) as intermediary.  When Inspector Evans (Pat O’Hara), who has been trailing Holmes, catches him microfilming the plans, “Alan” bludgeons the ill-fated lawman and puts him through the machine, where Evans gets recombined with a guinea pig disintegrated earlier.

Holmes crushes the guinea pig (which has human hands), first with his shoe and then with a heavy piece of machinery; sends the rodent-clawed Evans into the river in a car trunk; and, when confronted by Philippe, repeats the process, sadistically including a fly, of which he knows his employer has a terrible dread, if not why.  This time, the story has a happier ending as the fly-headed Philippe eludes the trigger-happy police, finds his way to the mortuary, and kills both Berthold and Holmes (who wounded François while making his getaway) before being put back through the machine with the captured fly and “getting his head together.”

Unlike Hedison, who actually acted under the heavy makeup—little wonder that Michael Rennie, the distinguished star of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), declined the role—Halsey was relieved of that burden.  Hal Lierley’s makeup in the sequel, which dramatically increased the size of Philippe’s fly head to gigantic proportions (and added a fly leg), was sported by a stuntman, circus giant Ed Wolff, best known to genre fans for playing the title role in The Colossus of New York (1958).

Although their relationship to André et al. is unclear, the matter-transmitting Delambres made one final appearance in Curse of the Fly (1965), directed in England by Don Sharp, whose work for Hammer Films included Kiss of the Vampire (1963).  Here, the family is represented by Henri (Brian Donlevy) and his two sons, Martin (George Baker) and Albert (Michael Graham).

Harry Spalding’s complex script finds Martin, whose periodic bouts of aging are caused by inherited fly genes and controlled with a serum, marrying an escaped mental patient, Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray).  But, like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, he secretly has a wife already:  the deformed Judith (Mary Manson), who is locked up with two other failed Delambre experiments.

With the interest of the police piqued by the passport problems inherent in transporting between England and Canada, Martin and Henri send those other “mistakes” through together, forcing Albert to dispose of the resulting blob.  As the law closes in, Martin disintegrates Henri, not knowing that the disillusioned Albert has now smashed the reintegrator, and ages to death.

Langelaan’s idea was well served in a remake, The Fly (1986), with Jeff Goldblum as the ill-fated genius, Seth Brundle.  Director David Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue offer a more plausible scenario, with the transmitter splicing Seth’s genes to those of the fly, and mine the inherent tragedy as his lover, Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis, who utters the immortal line, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”), witnesses his degeneration.

Chris Walas, who created and designed Cronenberg’s Fly, directed a superfluous sequel (sans Cronenberg, Goldblum, or Davis), predictably titled The Fly II (1989).  Ronnie dies giving birth to Seth’s son, and the mutated Martin (Eric Stoltz) is raised by an evil industrialist, but this second-generation fly also escapes his father’s fate in a happy ending, eventually curing himself.

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Tor.com has posted the latest installment of my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series today, and it was quite a challenge tackling his miniseries The Martian Chronicles, because despite its many detractors, I think he did a superb job adapting Ray Bradbury’s book.  In other Matheson news, the first trailer for Real Steel (a remake of his Twilight Zone episode “Steel”) is making the rounds and getting raves for the filmmakers’ wise decision to use motion-capture—coached by Sugar Ray Leonard, yet—to create its robot boxers.  Finally, I’ll hold off on a formal publication alert until it’s in my hot little hands, but the official word is out from Cinema Retro that the cover stories in their Exorcist issue include the William Peter Blatty interview I did with Gilbert Colon.

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Another day, another obit:  this time we mourn the passing (at a respectable 86) of stage, screen, and television character actor Harold Gould, whose feature-film work included The Front Page (1974), Love and Death (1975), and Silent Movie (1976).  He had memorable recurring parts on Rhoda and The Golden Girls; the former earned him one of five Emmy nominations, as did the role of L.B. Mayer in The Scarlett O’Hara War (1980).  Among his few genre roles were Robert Bloch’s The Couch (1962), William Castle’s Project X (1968), and two apiece on The Twilight Zone, The Invaders, and The Ray Bradbury Theater (one of which garnered another nomination).

AOL News’s Joseph Schuman captured why I am writing this:  “If there was a signature movie role in [Gould’s] long, versatile career…it was the elegant con man [Kid] Twist in The Sting, the 1973 fable of ragtime-era grifters starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  The film’s audiences first saw Gould arrive in town wearing matching gray gloves and a fedora.  A jewel-studded tie pin, spats and gold-headed cane rounded out the picture of a dapper sophisticate whose bearing was as precise as the cut of his salt-and-pepper mustache.  But Gould’s eyes, as he signaled recognition to Newman, conveyed the street sense of a veteran con.”  That nails it.

I can’t hold a candle to the professional obits I’ve just been skimming when it comes to covering Gould’s distinguished stage career, his marriage of 60 years (God bless him), or trivia such as the fact that he played the fathers of Marlo Thomas and Ron Howard in what became That Girl and Happy Days, respectively, but lost the roles when the series eventuated.  I do know that when an actor makes a relatively brief role as indelible as Kid Twist, he has something special, and Gould had it in spades.  There are many reasons why The Sting is one of my all-time favorite films, and supporting players like him are a big one, so he will be much missed; here’s looking at you, Kid.

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As some of you already know, in addition to writing my own blog, I have taken to haunting the blogosphere in general in an effort to spread the word about my forthcoming book Richard Matheson on Screen.  Without endorsing or condemning too many specific sites, I thought this post might provide an interesting account of my adventures to date, and since Matheson wrote one of the best-known episodes of the original Star Trek, “The Enemy Within,” the title seemed like a no-brainer.  (Note:  I tried three different online calculators to convert today’s date into a Stardate, and got three different answers, so I can’t particularly vouch for the one above from http://www.trekguide.com/Stardates.htm.)

The indispensable first step in such a campaign was to set up a Google Alert that sends me daily e-mails listing every mention of Matheson on the Internet, and while going through them all is time-consuming, you can’t make an omelet without taking time to break some eggs.  They range from obscure blogs (say, this one) to well-known sites, e.g., the Huffington Post, where he was misidentified on July 14 as the writer of the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “Third from the Sun,” actually adapted from his story by Rod Serling.  If that seems like nitpicking, be aware that the columnist was using Matheson’s supposed authorship of the episode to exemplify a particular moment in history, whereas the short story had been written a decade earlier—hey, an obsession is a harsh taskmaster.

As a relative neophyte in the blogosphere, I’ve found this to be a learning experience in many ways, like the fact that there’s some really weird poetry out there by a guy named Richard Matheson, who I’m pretty sure isn’t my Mr. Matheson.  I learned that “Button, Button”—basis for the recent train-wreck The Box—was adapted on radio long before its mid-’80s Twilight Zone incarnation, which I wish Paul Stuve and I had known when we compiled our exhaustive “ographies” (bibliography, filmography, etc.) for The Richard Matheson Companion.  And there is a forthcoming Moonstone Comics graphic novel based on Matheson’s The Night Strangler; we were able to include their earlier version of The Night Stalker, adapted by Kolchak creator Jeff Rice hisself, no less.

But most of all, I’m learning that for a guy I always felt was underappreciated, Matheson seems to be mentioned on a whole lotta websites, even if it’s only a throwaway line like, “Hey, all, I just finished reading I Am Legend, and now I’m repairing my sink.  Here are some photos of the sink.”  In fact, I Am Legend is by far the most frequently mentioned of his works, accounting for perhaps half of each day’s links, sometimes simply among a list of books the blogger recommends, or is reading, or has just read, or wants to read.  Since a lot of bloggers seem to be heavily into zombies, there is no shortage of references to the fact that it also inspired George A. Romero’s seminal zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, although the three official feature-film versions get their share of discussion, too.

Obviously, the object of the exercise is to create grass-roots awareness for my magnum opus, which I hope will be of some interest to the author and/or readers of any blog post about Matheson, but I don’t want my comments to be merely commercials.  So I try not only to provide some feedback on the post—which, after all, is what comments are for—but also to offer some interesting Mathesoniana, or the occasional correction, before I slip in my little plug at the end.  I must say that so far these people have been very supportive (if they acknowledge my comments at all), expressing a desire to read the book when it is finally published and, in a few cases, even requesting links from which it can be ordered.

Some have been amazingly generous, like the Bradburymedia site (see blogroll at right) that I belatedly discovered—via a hitherto overlooked incoming links feature on WordPress’s “dashboard”—had posted the cover of my book and links to both the McFarland page and my BOF profile of Bradbury/Matheson pal William F. Nolan.  Trust a warm-hearted guy like Ray to inspire such a fan site, which is probably what this one would have become for Matheson if I didn’t have so many other, lesser cinematic and pop-culture interests.  I’ve also struck up a desultory and very pleasant blog-comment and e-mail exchange with William Schoell, who has been examining the various incarnations of I Am Legend on his Great Old Movies blog, and is the author of several genre-film books in my home library.

Other sites, which I don’t fully fathom, appear to be encouraging people to purchase a DVD or other merchandise, yet since they seem to be personal blogs, I don’t see how the blogger benefits except by getting his or her name out there, but if readers are in a buying mood, so much the better.  Reading some of these can be intensely disheartening, like one with five or six uniformly negative “reviews” of Steven Spielberg’s Matheson-scripted Duel—a classic by any reasonable standard—along the lines of, “It has no story,” “It was stupid,” or “Nothing happens.”  One envisions these “critics” IM’ing their comments (if such a thing is even logistically possible; I neither know nor care) in between rounds of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, all the while wondering if they will ever lose their virginity.

There’s a pretty lively, at times acrimonious, Twilight-inspired debate going on nowadays between the pro-sparkly and anti-sparkly camps, but since the net result is an increased interest in vampires, I’ll cheerfully jump on that bandwagon without taking sides, as I am unfamiliar with Twilight and its sequels.  I’ve seen I Am Legend recommended as further reading for those who love Twilight, and as a corrective for those who hate it, so I’m not alone in considering Matheson a nonpartisan choice.  His impeccable vampire credentials also include the stories “Dress of White Silk,” which influenced Anne Rice, and “Blood Son”; scripting the two original Night Stalker TV-movies, which influenced Buffy creator Joss Whedon; and adapting Dracula for the Dan Curtis TV version starring Jack Palance.

Well, I’m no expert, God knows, but it looks as if that’s how we sell our wares in this here 21st century of ours, since I’m unlikely to be booked on Good Morning America to talk about how great Richard Matheson is when they could probably get Richard himself.  Because I get no advance against royalties on this one (unlike my two previous Matheson projects, although those would have averaged out at a hilariously minuscule hourly rate), literally every sale counts, and I’m out there sellin’ this thing one copy at a time.  The law of averages suggests that sooner or later, some fellow blogger will take umbrage over my shameless shilling, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying my educational experiences in the blogosphere, and would like to thank all those, both named and unnamed, who’ve helped.

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First in a series of six previously unpublished profiles.

Once called “the Val Lewton of 1950s sci-fi/horror,” William Alland (1916-97) produced several classic SF films directed by Jack Arnold at Universal-International (U-I).  Also an actor and screenwriter, he had appeared in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as Thompson, the dogged reporter, and received the story credit on Flesh and Fury (1952) and several of his own productions.

His stint at U-I began with The Black Castle (1952), a Gothic melodrama marking the debut of Nathan Juran, who went on to direct Alland’s The Deadly Mantis (1957).  Alland’s output there was divided relatively evenly between SF and such Westerns as The Stand at Apache River (1953) and Chief Crazy Horse (1955), both of which portrayed Indians in an unusually favorable manner.

Before directing Alland’s Four Guns to the Border (1954), actor Richard Carlson met equally sympathetic aliens in Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953), U-I’s first 3-D feature.  Based on a treatment by author Ray Bradbury, the film concerns a crew of “Xenomorphs,” who impersonate the residents of a small southwestern town to buy time while repairing their spaceship.

According to Bradbury, his treatment, “The Meteor,” amounted to a full script that was only slightly revised by screenwriter Harry Essex, who returned for Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  Also shot in 3-D, this provided the decade’s only addition to Universal’s stable of classic monsters, the Gill-Man, which remains one of the genre’s most convincing make-up effects.

Alland produced U-I’s first full-color SF film, an epic adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s 1952 novel This Island Earth (1955), directed by the otherwise unremarkable Joseph M. Newman.  Arnold reportedly lent an uncredited hand, probably limited to the climax on the embattled planet of Metaluna, to which the studio insisted on including a bug-eyed mutant, over Alland’s objections.

In Arnold’s Revenge of the Creature (1955), the last Hollywood 3-D film of the 1950s, the Gill-Man is captured and put on display in a Florida oceanarium.  While he was somewhat less effective outside his natural Amazonian habitat (in reality the Everglades), the film is head and shoulders above many sequels, and notable in marking the screen debut of a young Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood also had a bit part in Arnold’s Tarantula (1955), which concerned an eponymous arachnid made monstrous by an “atomically stabilized” nutrient.  This combined human actors with footage of a photographically enlarged spider much more believably than the other “big bug” films of the same era, thanks largely to the work of cameraman and special effects wizard Clifford Stine.

Several of Alland’s colleagues advanced under his aegis, such as Virgil Vogel, who edited This Island Earth and was elevated to director on two of his lesser efforts, The Mole People (1956) and The Land Unknown (1957).  When Arnold declined to direct the third and final Gill-Man film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), he recommended his erstwhile assistant, John Sherwood.

Alland made his last two genre films—Eugène Lourié’s The Colossus of New York and Arnold’s The Space Children (both 1958)—for Paramount.  The former features a scientist who places the brilliant brain of his deceased son into a huge robot, with predictable results, while the latter concerns a giant alien brain that controls a group of children to foil a nuclear satellite project.

On the small screen, Alland produced World of Giants (1960); ironically, this series about a six-inch-tall spy was inspired by Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), produced by Albert Zugsmith after Alland left U-I.  He and Arnold enjoyed occasional changes of pace like The Lady Takes a Flyer (1958), a romantic comedy, and The Lively Set (1964), a teen-oriented rock musical.

Alland directed one film, the psychological drama Look in Any Window (1961), and left the industry after producing the Western comedy The Rare Breed (1966).  At his best, he shared Val Lewton’s ability to create intelligent, atmospheric genre films within the constraints of limited budgets and studio control, and will be remembered as that rare producer with a true affinity for SF.

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