Saturday, August 29, 2009

One of the Missing

One of the Missing is a film originally produced for public television in the US. It was written and directed by J.D. Feigelson, and based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.

The 2006 DVD release features a restored version of the film, with enhanced visuals and a few minutes of material cut from the original broadcast version. It also includes a brief introduction by Ray Bradbury from one of its public television screenings in the 1970s, and from the same screening Bradbury interviewing Feigelson.

The story is one of Bierce's American Civil War stories, taken from the collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. It concerns a soldier on a scouting mission who finds himself trapped in a collapsed building. The story is similar in tone to Bierce's more well known Civil War story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", a story whose fame has no doubt been enhanced by television adaptations on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

Feigelson's film takes a couple of liberties with the source material (his scout is a confederate, Bierce's was from the other side!), but creates a strong dramatisation of the story. He does this with minimal dialogue, and with a deftly created image system. Watch for the parallels between the actual Civil War photo at the beginning, the soldier trapped beneath a fallen tree, a spider web in a flashback, and the final shot of the film.

It is rare for Ray Bradbury to act as the host of a TV show - Ray Bradbury Theater being the one exception. So what led him to take this "job"?

There seems to be a couple of answers to this. Judging by his comments in the introduction and interview, he seems to be an admirer of Bierce. But the main reason is that Bradbury was Feigelson's mentor. This isn't mentioned in the video content of the DVD, but is discussed in the director biography on the disc.

In the interview, Bradbury and Feigelson discuss their shared love of Hitchcock - one of Feigelson's influences in the styling of One of the Missing. They also discuss previous adaptations of Bierce, such as the Twilight Zone episode.

Some years after One of the Missing, Bradbury would be instrumental in landing Feigelson a job on the revived version of The Twilight Zone. Feigelson would write and direct "The Burning Man", in my view one of the best adaptations of a Bradbury story. You can read my review of this episode, and more information about how Feigelson got the job, here.

One of the Missing is an interesting DVD, but something of an oddity. The film is less than an hour in length, and is something of a slow starter. The DVD commentary is shared between Feigelson and a producer, and although it contains some interesting insights, they spend much of the time describing the story.

There is also some confusion over when the film was actually made. According to the DVD sleeve and IMDB, it was 1979. But according to the copyright date at the end of the film it was 1969 - and during the DVD commentary Feigelson mentions shooting in 1968.

I wouldn't recommend buying the DVD just for the Bradbury content (which amounts to about fifteen minutes at best), but if you like a suspenseful, visual and short Civil War movie, this is a good one!

Monday, August 24, 2009


I'm not really one for genealogy, but sometimes a simple family tree is all you need to be able to make sense of a biography. Whenever Ray Bradbury is biographised [find out if that is a real word - Ed.], his biographers have a tendency to trace his family history back to two solid points:
  • the first Bradbury to arrive in the Americas (Thomas Bradbury in 1634)
  • Mary Bradbury, accused of witchcraft in Salem (in 1692)
Unfortunately, there are a good ten generations between Thomas, Mary and Ray; ten generations in which certain names get re-used: there are a lot of Hinkstons, Spauldings and Samuels in the family. I find it difficult to keep my head straight when a biographer is talking about "Samuel Bradbury" - do they mean Samuel IRVING Bradbury, Samuel HINKSTON Bradbury, Samuel Hinkston Bradbury JUNIOR, or one of several plain old Samuel Bradburys (no suffix, no middle name)?

Oddly, none of the biographers has thought to provide a family tree. Maybe they are as confused about all this as I am...

To resolve the problem, I had to draw up a family tree myself, based on information gleaned from various sources. Most helpful were The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller and Red Planet, Flaming Phoenix, Green Town by Marvin E. Mengeling. I had to cross-check some information on full names and dates using, an excellent genealogy resource, although one which is prone to occasional error since, like Wikipedia, anyone can contribute to it.

No doubt there will be some real genealogists who will be unhappy that I haven't filled in every branch of the Bradbury family tree. My excuse is that I created this to help me make sense of the biographies I was reading. Uncles Bion, Inar and Lester seem to have been influential on Bradbury's life and art - so they are shown. Their spouses and offspring don't seem to have been so influential - so they are left out.

See for yourself: click the image below to reveal my attempt at the Bradbury family tree:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was born on this day in 1920.

He claims to remember the moment of his birth.

He expects to live forever.

Here is the birthday card I sent to Ray:

(click image to enlarge)

(The card depicts the hazard of placing birthday cards too close to birthday cake candles...With apologies to Peter Goodfellow, whose classic cover for Fahrenheit 451 is shamelessly mashed-up in the above design.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Breaking News - Bradbury Thirteen

Here's some great news: it's been brought to my attention that Bradbury Thirteen is available for download from Twilight Zone Radio.

This is one of the all-time best radio dramatisations of Bradbury stories. The full story of the series' creation is told on my Bradbury Thirteen page.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bradbury vs. Welles

I have blogged before on the question of the Father Mapple sermon from the 1956 film Moby Dick. This, you may recall, is a feature film directed by John Huston, for which Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay.

Bradbury had a protracted battle with Huston over the proper screenplay credit. Huston claimed a co-writing credit, Bradbury contested this. Bradbury won an adjudication in his favour from the Writer's Guild of America, but this was overturned on appeal, despite the lack of any new evidence to justify this.

Fifty years later, Bradbury exacted sweet revenge by publishing his original screenplay. Here, plain to see, are the major structural modifications Bradbury made to Melville's original tale, making a convincing case for Bradbury's authorship of the screenplay.

Meanwhile, in occasional interviews, Orson Welles had been claiming that he wrote his Father Mapple speech himself. This wouldn't be unusual - he claimed to have re-written many of his film roles.

Bradbury's published version of the Moby Dick screenplay didn't shed much light on the issue. The version of the sermon published there didn't bear much resemblance at all to the version in the finished film. This COULD imply that Welles' claim was correct. Alternatively, it could simply indicate that the scene was shot from a later draft of the screenplay than the one Bradbury chose to publish.

However, I now have a clear solution to the matter.

Here's the scene as it appears in the film:

And here's Orson Welles' stage version of Melville, his play Moby Dick - Rehearsed:

And here is the start of the Mapple speech:

It might be argued that Welles' stage version of the speech is just a condensed, selective version of what Melville wrote, which indeed it is. You can do the comparison quite easily by reading the original Melville at Project Gutenberg.

What's important, though, is that the selections from Melville are almost identical in Moby Dick - Rehearsed and the released version of the film. The sermon even begins and ends at the same points, although one section from the play doesn't make it into the film.

My conclusion is that Welles did indeed write the script for the Mapple sermon used in Huston's film. Sorry, Orson, for ever doubting you...

Here's the full version of what Mapple says in Moby Dick - Rehearsed. Why not set the YouTube clip running, and compare it for yourself?

Beloved shipmates, clinch the last chapter of the first verse of Jonah - "And God has prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."

Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command; and God's command is hard, shipmates - for in obeying God, we must obey ourselves. But Jonah Still further flouts at God by seeking to flee from him. JOnah thinks that a ship, made by men, will carry him into countries where God does not reign! With slouching hat and guilty eye, prowling among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas, at last, after much dodgin search, he finds a ship receiving the last items of her cargo. As he steps aboard the sailors mark the stranger's evil eye...."Point out my state-room," says Jonah. "I'm travel-weary; I need sleep." ..."Ye looks it," says the Captain, "there's your room." ...All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his berth.

He finds the ceiling almost resisting his forehead; the air is close, and Jonah gasps. In that contracted hole he feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels' wards.

And now the time of tide is come; the ship, careening, glides to sea. ...But soon the sea rebels. It will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes on; the ship is like to break, the bo'sum calls all hands to lighten her; boxes, bales and jars are clattering overboard; the wind is shrieking; the men are yelling. "I fear the Lord!" cries Jonah. "The God of Heavens who hath made the sea and the dry land!" -

Again the sailors mark him. The God-fugitive is now too plainly known. And wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast him overboard, - for he knew that for his sake this dreadful tempest was upon them.

"And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea" - into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shuts - to all his ivory teeh like so many white bolts upon his prison. Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, shipmates. He doesn't weep and wail. He feels his punishment is just and leaves his deliverance to God.

Shipmates, sin not; but if ye do, take heed ye repent of it like Jonah.

And now - how gladly would I come down there and sit with you and listen while some one of you reads me the more awful lesson Jonah teaches me as a pilot of the living God. How, bidden by the Lord to preach unwelcome truths in the ears of the wicked, Jonah sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship. But God is everywhere; and even "out of the belly of hell" God heard him when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breaching up to the sun, and "vomited out Jonah" upon the dry land; and Jonah - bruised and beaten - his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean - Jonah did the Almighty's bidding. And what was that, shipmates? - To preach the truth to the face of Falsehood!

Shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled waters when God has brewed 'em into a gale! - Who seeks to please rather than to appal! Yea, woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness, and who - as the great Pilot Paul has it, - while preaching to others, is himself a castaway!

But oh, shipmates! Delight is to him - who, against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, stands forth, his own inexorable self! - who gives no quarter in the truth, and who destroys all sin though he poluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges! Delight - Top-gallant delight is to him who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to Heaven. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who, coming to lay him down can say - O Father! - mortal or immortal - here I die. I have striven to be Thine more than to be this world's, or mine own. Yet this is nothing; I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Jar...

After blogging about "The Jar" the other day, I remembered that there were at least two more media versions of "The Jar" in existence - one for Bradbury's own TV series, and one for his own radio series.

So I now offer a new review of the Ray Bradbury Theater version of "The Jar" - click here! Like all episodes of RBT, it was scripted by Bradbury himself. It's better than the revived Hitchcock version from 1986, but not as good as the original Hitchcock version from 1964.

The radio version, for Tales of the Bizarre, will be reviewed at a later date.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Jar...and other ways to be useful after death...

Good evening.

Somehow that seems the only appropriate way of introducing a blog post that mentions Alfred Hitchcock's TV series.

As I have posted before, Ray Bradbury did a lot of work on Hitch's TV shows, scripting several episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. I now have reviews of the Hour episodes on my site: here you can read about "The Life Work of Juan Diaz" and "The Jar" - which, according to director Norman Lloyd, was Hitchcock's favourite episode of the series. It also earned an Emmy award for dramatist James Bridges, who would later write and direct The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome and Bright Lights, Big City.

Both of these Hour episodes involve characters who provide spectator sports, long after their demise. (Imagine Hitchcock saying it.)

I have also reviewed the less than inspiring 1980s remake of "The Jar". Here you can read about Tim Burton's early career effort for the revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (Yes, the one hosted by a fuzzily colorised Hitch.)

I also have a sidebar story on the origins of "The Jar", and a link to Norman Lloyd discussing the Bradbury episodes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Something Chilly This Way Comes

In Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, shortly after Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town, Charles Halloway's attention is caught by something in a shop window:

Halloway's eyes leaped to the poster on the inside of the window.
And back to the cold long block of ice.

It was such a block of ice as he remembered from travelling magician's shows when he was a boy, when the local ice company contributed a chunk of winter in which, for twelve hours on end, frost maidens lay embedded, on display while people watched and comedies toppled down the raw white screen and coming attractions came and went and at last the pale ladies slid forth all rimed, chipped free by perspiring sorcerers to be led off smiling into the dark behind the curtains.

And yet this vast chunk of wintry glass held nothing but frozen river water.

No. Not quite empty.

Halloway felt his heart pound one special time.

Within the huge winter gem was there not a special vacuum? a voluptuous hollow, a prolonged emptiness which undulated from tip to toe of the ice? and wasn't this vacuum, this emptiness waiting to be filled with summer flesh, was it not shaped somewhat like a. . .woman?


The ice. And the lovely hollows, the horizontal flow of emptiness within the ice. The lovely nothingness. The exquisite flow of an invisible mermaid daring the ice to capture it.

I wonder if Bradbury might have been inspired by a real-life ice stunt which took place in Illinois (probably Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan) when he was ten years old:

Read more about this bizarre event here on the excellent Illuminating Lake County blog.