Bradbury on the Silver Screen

May 18, 2020 by

From a very early age, Ray Bradbury had a love for the cinema. His passion was born through his mother, Esther Bradbury. In 1924, she began taking her son — not yet four years old — to the movies in downtown Waukegan, Illinois. The first film that they saw together was Lon Chaney’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. According to Bradbury biographer, Sam Weller, “this movie laid the groundwork in his fertile mind for what would later become Ray’s trademark — the strange, the fantastic, the imaginative all wrapped up in a story most decidedly human. . . . THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME ignited a lifelong love of film — a medium that later forged his keen sense of story and his grasp of quick narrative movement.”

The author himself noted, “When I talk of myself as being a child of my time, perhaps the biggest truth is that I am a cinematic child of my time, in that this influence has probably had a lot to do with the direction my writing has taken over the years, the type of writing I have done, and the way I have expressed myself.”

Ray Bradbury’s stories are visual, almost cinematic. Hence the wonderful EC Comics adaptations by Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and other artists. It’s also one of the reasons that Mutual Pictures of California bought the movie rights to his short story, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” Bradbury later called his story “The Foghorn,” for its publication in THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN (1953).

Originally published in the June 23, 1951 issue of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, Bradbury’s story concerns a lovelorn sea serpent, “. . . hid away in the Deeps. Deep, deep down in the deepest Deeps.” Hearing the call of a lonely fog horn, the creature leaves its cold and dark lair to seek another of its kind. Sadly, all the monster finds is the lighthouse and its foghorn. In anguish, the dinosaur destroys the lighthouse and returns to “the deepest Deeps.”

Hoping to capitalize on Ray Bradbury’s growing popularity and reputation, producers Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester changed the name of their film — THE MONSTER FROM BENEATH THE SEA — to match the POST story. They also gave Bradbury story credit and promoted their film with his name. The author’s only contribution to the film is the lighthouse attack scene.

Released by Warner Brothers in 1953 and featuring animation effects by Ray Bradbury’s close friend, Ray Harryhausen, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS was the first of the atomic monster films. Its financial success led to the many giant monster movies of the 1950s and 60s, including Ishirō Honda’s GODZILLA (1954). The film also helped to launch Ray Harryhausen’s lauded career as the master of “Dynamation.”

While Chester and Dietz were interested in acquiring the rights to Ray Bradbury’s story to capitalize on his popularity, Universal Pictures had other plans for the author. Although likely knowing of his stature as a leading science fiction author, the studio approached him in 1952 to help them develop a monster movie.

Ever ambitious, Bradbury offered Universal two choices: he’d develop a screen treatment about a bug-eyed-monster attacking Earth or a story about aliens arriving on our planet without harmful intent.

“I wanted to treat the invaders as beings who were not dangerous, and that was very unusual. The only other film like it was THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, two years before. These two films stand out as treating creatures who understand humanity. The studio picked the right concept and I stayed on.”

According to Sam Weller’s THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES: Bradbury’s work for Universal “. . . went far beyond the parameters of the normal, present-tense, narrative film treatment. The final 111-page outline, completed in early October, was heavy on dialogue and camera direction. It was a point-by-point, scene-by-scene blueprint for a writer to adapt into script form.” The film’s screenwriter Harry Essex later suggested: “Ray Bradbury wrote a screenplay and called it a treatment.”

Director Jack Arnold’s IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was released on May 25, 1953, and was “immediately recognized as a groundbreaking work of 1950s science fiction paranoia, echoing the burgeoning national obsession with Martians, flying saucers, and incidents like the alleged 1947 crash of an alien craft in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico. . . . instead of rehashing the tired cliché of an intergalactic monster set to devour civilization, he flipped the space-invader genre on its collective ear by portraying human beings as the real villains of the story.”

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was Universal’s first science fiction film and their first official 3-D release. In later years, filmmaker Steven Spielberg credited IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE as an inspiration for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Apparently, he had seen it six times as a kid.

Although Ray Bradbury would be part of the Hollywood scene for many years to come — he would write the screenplay for John Huston’s MOBY DICK (1956), help get THE TWILIGHT ZONE off the ground, co-direct the reshoots for Disney’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983), script all 65 episodes of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (1985 – 1992), win an Emmy Award for THE HALLOWEEN TREE in 1994, and more — these two fifties B-movies were perhaps the most influential works of cinema to be associated with the author.

PulpFest 2020 is very pleased to highlight THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE as part of its celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Ray Douglas Bradbury.

(Pictured here are James R. Bingham’s interior illustration for Ray Bradbury’s “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” from THE SATURDAY EVENING POST for June 23, 1951, as well as one of the movie posters advertising the 1953 Universal Pictures release. The art is probably the work of Joseph Smith. Directly below “SPACE” in the title logo of the movie poster are the words: “From Ray Bradbury’s great science fiction story.” You can’t shut a great author out!)

Flying Saucers and Fisticuffs: New Pulp from Duane Spurlock

Aug 4, 2015 by

SpurlockDo you want to believe? The truth is out there.

It is 1897 and the skies are haunted by mysterious airships and unfathomable secrets. Tasked with hunting down these strange vehicles of the air and determining their origin and intent, two U.S. government agents toil under unusual conditions to supply their shadowy superiors with information. But that information proves to be as elusive as the airships themselves.

Ride with Agents Valiantine and Cabot across the Midwest as they encounter reports of strange lights, phantom soldiers, unreliable witnesses, and the ultimate source of their airborne prey.

They are the Airship Hunters, and they cannot be waylaid from their path to uncover the greatest mystery of them all.

On Saturday afternoon, August 15th, at high noon, PulpFest 2015 will welcome New Fictioneer Duane Spurlock to its second-floor programming area, at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Duane will be reading from AIRSHIP HUNTERSa short novel he co-authored with Jim Beard. It will be published as a signed, limited edition trade paperback and will premier at PulpFest 2015.

Duane will also be reading from FIGHTING ALASKA, a novelette concerning a bare-knuckles boxer who travels to the Alaskan gold fields as a way to escape the fight game. Once there, he meets historical figures Wyatt Earp, Rex Beach, and Tex Rickard, plus more trouble than he imagined. It’s part of the FIGHT CARD series of books that are inspired by the boxing pulps of the 1930s and ’40s.

Duane Spurlock writes adventure and fantasy-oriented action tales. He has also has worked as an illustrator, including the book THE BLEEDING HORSE AND OTHER GHOST STORIES, written by Brian Showers. It won the Children of the Night Award from the Dracula Society. Spurlock says, “Genre fiction and popular media have narrative strengths that speak to readers in powerful ways, no matter what era the stories are set in, no matter what the tropes or expectations may be for a given genre or type of story.”

Duane maintains three blogs: The Spur & Lock Mercantile, which examines the western genre in various media; The Pulp Rack, focused on popular narrative fiction during the first half of the 20th Century, its precursors, and its influence on contemporary media; and InterroBang, presenting updates on the author’s current works in progress. Spurlock comes from a long line of long-winded storytellers. He lives with his family in Kentucky, where they garden, doodle, whistle, and tell one another stories.

In its continuing effort to promote the work of writers of “new pulp fiction,” PulpFest is proud to continue its long-running New Fictioneer series of readings. Duane Spurlock is one of four contemporary writers who will be reading at this year’s convention. Click our red “schedule” button to learn about all of the writers who will be offering their work to the PulpFest membership. Afterward, book a room for three nights by visiting www.pulpfest.com/2015/06/16872/ and register now for “Summer’s Great Pulp Con.”

(The cover art for THE AIRSHIP HUNTERS is by freelance illustrator and graphic designer M. S. Corley. A resident of Kirkland, Washington, he’s the cover artist for the APOCALYPSE WEIRD series, an imagined world used to tell a single shared story over the course of several books, from different perspectives, by a multitude of authors. It’s the story of several different “End of the World” scenarios taking place all at once, all connected and influenced by a dark force from beyond the known. Corley has designed and illustrated everything from comic books to video game concept art, producing work for clients such as Dark Horse Comics, Simon & Schuster, Valancourt Books, Henry Holt Macmillian, Microsoft, and Amazon Publishing.)