X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes

Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay:Robert Dillon and Ray Russell
Stars: Ray Milland (Dr. James Xavier), Diana Van der Vlis (Dr. Diane Fairfax), HaroldStone (Dr. Sam Brant), John Hoyt (Dr. Willard Benson), Don Rickles (Crane), MorrisAnkrum (Mr. Bowhead)
MPAA Rating:NR
Year of Release: 1963
Country: USA
X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes Poster

X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes is one of B-movie auteur Roger Corman'smore interesting films, a science-fiction parable about an ambitious medical researcher whotests an experimental serum on himself, which gives him the ability to see through objects.The story shamelessly and successfully combines the same threads of science fiction andhorror that fueled Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, especially the centrality of thewell-meaning scientist whose experimental science goes horribly wrong, resulting in tragicconsequences with philosophical ramifications about the role of humankind and nature.

Ray Milland, who won an Oscar for his role in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend(1945) and had worked with Corman a year earlier on The Premature Burial(1962), stars as the medical researcher, Dr. James Xavier. Xavier is not a bad man; he's notthe "mad scientist" type that dominated science fiction films following the development of theatomic bomb in World War II. He is ambitious, though, and in science fiction, ambitionoften leads to disaster.

When first working on the serum (code-named "X"), Xavier has only the highest and mostnoble hopes for it, imagining it as a way of freeing human eyesight from the restrictionsnature had placed on it by only allowing us to see one-tenth of the spectrum of light. What ifwe could see the whole spectrum? Xavier wonders. By being able to see through flesh andbone, he imagines a future where doctors would be able to diagnose illnesses and performperfect surgery, which he eventually does.

Of course, as science fiction parables have taught us since the beginning, there are somethings men of science are not meant to tamper with, and every scientific breakthrough has aprice. There is a reason why we can only see one-tenth of the light spectrum; as Xaviereventually finds out, we are not emotionally or spiritually prepared for more knowledge thanthat. Although Xavier's x-ray vision appears to be beneficial at first, not to mention amusing(there is a hilarious sequence at a dance party when he first realizes that this newfound abilityallows him to see through people's clothes), it soon begins to overwhelm him. The serum isregenerative and compounding, meaning that the more he uses, the more he can see through,which distorts his perception beyond human comprehension.

The story takes a melodramatic turn near the midway point when Xavier inadvertently killshis colleague and friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold Stone), and must hide from the police. Hedisappears into a carnival, pretending to be a crackpot fortune teller who reads the minds ofaudience members. Those who work in the carnival begin to suspect that there is somethingnot quite right about him--men and women who have spent their lives dealing with fakes,frauds, and con artists know the real deal when they're faced with it. Crane (Don Rickles),the devious carny who runs Xavier's show, is particularly curious about his abilities, and heuses his suspicions about Xavier to exploit him for profit.

X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes gradually devolves into paranoia anduncontrollability, as Xavier runs for his life through the Nevada desert, eventually findinghimself at a tent revival where his x-ray vision reaches the pinnacle of its strength. In astrangely disturbing and mystical climax, the film suggests that Xavier may be able to seeright to the core of the universe, perhaps finding himself faced with God, to which his onlyresponse can be that of Oedipus. The film plays heavily on the physicality of vision and thevulnerability of the eyes, and the images of Xavier starring out from the screen, his eyesturned into solid black masses that are begging to be torn out, is not one that is easy toforget.

Xavier's plight is familiar to those who know the tropes of didactic science fiction (it hassomething of a Twilight Zone feel to it), yet X: The Man With the X-RayEyes works better than many of Corman's other low-budget efforts both cinematicallyand intellectually. The film is somewhat crude and mechanical in its low-budget aesthetic, yetit's hard to shake off its ideas. While not a work of great philosophical depth, it does get youthinking, especially its harrowing, nihilistic conclusion that introduces mysticism into thescience fiction narrative in a way few other films do.

X: The Man Withthe X-Ray Eyes DVD

AudioDolby 1.0 Monaural
SupplementsAudio commentary by director Roger Corman
Original theatrical trailer
Original prologue sequence

For a low-budget movie made on inferior film stock almost40 years ago, X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes looks pretty good. The newanamorphic (1.85:1) transfer was made from a very clean print, as there are almost noinstances of dirt, specks, or scratches (with the exception of the closing credits). Colors lookgenerally good, if just a bit faded, and flesh tones sometimes appear a bit pale. Black levelsare fairly good throughout, with some noticeable grain, but nothing distracting. Despite theirbold colors, the psychedelic sequences meant to represent Xavier's point of view are ofnoticeably lesser quality than the rest of the film, but that is likely due to the fact that they hadto be run through an optical printer numerous times in order to achieve the effects.

The Dolby 1.0 monaural soundtrack is about as good asone could expect. It is generally clean and distortion free.

Director Roger Corman contributes a good screen-specificaudio commentary even though he claims this is the first time he's watched the movie in 20years. He discusses how the movie came to be made, what some of his initial ideas were (heoriginally wanted Xavier to be a jazz player who developed x-ray vision after taking toomany drugs), and how most of the effects were achieved. Although the movie is very short(about 1 hour and 20 minutes), Corman's commentary becomes much thinner and moresporadic during the last third.

The disc also includes a rarely seen prologue sequence, which runs about five minutes inlength. The prologue plays like a bad educational film, attempting to set up the film's themein an awkwardly didactic manner that most drive-in audiences would have found eitherinsulting, boring, or both. Finally, the disc includes an original theatrical trailer.

©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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