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D–E Entries
Meyer Dolinsky
Faith Domergue
David Duchovny
David Duncan
Harlan Ellison
Roland Emmerich
Maurice Evans
 
DUNCAN, DAVID
(1913–1999). American writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Wrote: Rodan (American version) (Inoshiro HONDA 1956); The Monster That Challenged the World (story; script Patricia Fielder) (Arnold Lavin 1957); The Thing That Wouldn't Die (Will Cowan 1958); Monster on the Campus (Jack ARNOLD 1958); The Black Scorpion (with Robert Blees; story Paul Yawitz) (Edward Ludwig 1959); "Christmas on the Moon" (script; story Lawrence Louis Goldman story) (1959), "Earthbound" (script with Robert Hecker; story Hecker), "Contraband" (script; story Stuart James Byrne), "Dark of the Sun," "Shadows on the Moon," "Flash in the Sky," "Beyond the Stars" (1960), episodes of Men into Space; The Leech Woman (Edward Dein 1960); The Time Machine (George PAL 1960); "The Human Factor" (1963), episode of The Outer Limits; Fantastic Voyage (story Jerome BIXBY, "adaptation" Duncan, script Harry Kleiner) (Richard FLEISCHER 1966)' "The End" (with Gary Menteer) (1987), episode of Second Chance.

Film based on his work: The Time Machine: The Journey Back (Clyde Lucas 1993); The Time Machine (Simon Wells 2002).

 
Given the radically different demands of writing for the printed page and writing for the silver screen, one might expect that talents would be narrowly specialized, with excellent novelists and story writers who falter in their efforts to produce worthwhile screenplays, and skilled screenwriters who cannot craft effective prose fiction. In fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary, at least in field of science fiction, where any number of writers—including Philip WYLIE Richard MATHESON, Harlan ELLISON, Michael CASSUTT, Melinda SNODGRASS, and Alan BRENNERT—have created both memorable stories and memorable scripts, while other writers—and David Duncan and Jerry SOHL are the first names that come to mind—have been spectacularly unsuccessful in both fields.

After contributing forgettable, and properly forgotten, novels like Dark Dominion and Occam's Razor to science fiction literature, Duncan was able to work his way into writing for the screen at a time when film producers, still unfamiliar with the genre of science fiction, were happy to recruit untrained writers with some credentials in the field. Initially, he did no harm, since in scripting the American version of Inoshiro HONDA's Rodan, there was little he could do to improve upon, or worsen, the Japanese original. But having then earned the right to produce original scripts, Duncan proceeded to do his part in bringing the golden age of science fiction film to an inglorious end. Although I admit to harboring a peculiar fondness for The Black Scorpion, that is undoubtedly due to the charming slobber dripping from the giant insect's mouth (courtesy of Willis O'BRIEN), not to any nuances in Duncan and Robert Blees's script; and the detached head of The Thing That Wouldn't Die is good for a few laughs, at least on first viewing. But you will search long and hard to find any genuinely appreciative commentaries on these films or The Monster That Challenged the World, Monster on the Campus and The Leech Woman, for they are witless assemblages of horror-film clichés, stale cautionary tales suggesting that "how to write a science fiction film" is one of those things that Man Is Not Meant to Know.

With this woeful track record, it is hard to see why George PAL thought Duncan was the ideal writer to adapt H. G. WELLS's The Time Machine to the screen, but he was visibly, for once, striving to do justice to that science fiction masterpiece. His original script, which I have read, reflected some attentiveness to Wells and his philosophy during its scenes of the Time Traveller in the near future, when he incredulously and bitterly observes London during World War I, World War II, and (in 1967) World War III. But Duncan could not deal intelligently with the novel's main sequence, reducing Wells's Eloi to emblems of human sloth and lack of ambition who must be schooled by the Time Traveller in the manly arts of hand-to-hand combat so that they can defeat the bestial Morlocks and, one must suppose, eventually launch their own World War IV. In those frenetic scenes of the Eloi discovering how much fun it is to clobber Morlocks, one observes source material not only being butchered, but betrayed as well. Ironically, since later film versions of The Time Machine, officially or not, always seem to betray Duncan's influence, this horrid script will likely stand as his most enduring achievement.

As Duncan understandably found it more and more difficult to get film assignments, he turned to the less demanding media of television, first churning out seven scripts for the rarely seen series Men into Space. Suffice it to say that while the series generally strived to treat the conquest of space seriously, Duncan contrived to inject some silliness in the mix, one lowlight being "Dark of the Sun," in which a computer assigned to choose the three most qualified astronomers for a mission happens to select a beautiful, unmarried woman and two unmarried men who also happen to be madly in love with her, leading to petulant squabbling and a ludicrous conclusion in which she decides to resolve their conflict by falling in love with another astronaut. But at least the producers of Men into Space were willing to put up with him; later, after writing an early episode of The Outer Limits, "The Human Factor," a routine story of mind exchange unenlivened by added images of an irrelevant monster, he was never asked to work for the series again.

When one considers his final film assignment, Fantastic Voyage, there has always been some uncertainty as to how Duncan's "adaptation" was related to Jerome BIXBY and Otto Klement's interesting original story and Harry Kleiner's vapid screenplay for Fantastic Voyage. Well, I now have my sources, and I can reveal that Duncan was originally assigned to write a script based on the story; however, he proceeded to make such a mess of the job that the film producers had to throw his work away and hire Kleiner to start all over again, leaving a credit for Duncan's "adaptation," one supposes, as a sop to his ego or a contractual obligation. Duncan went on to do more writing for television, even becoming a mainstay of the undemanding western series Daniel Boone, and cropped up as a credited writer as late as 1987 with an episode of the short-lived fantasy comedy Second Chance. But in the last few decades of his life, and since his death in 1999, he has remained in obscurity, the dark dominion of writers who can never rise above the ordinary.

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