X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes [DVD]
Screenplay : Robert Dillon and Ray Russell
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1963
Stars : Ray Milland (Dr. James Xavier), Diana Van der Vlis (Dr. Diane Fairfax), Harold Stone (Dr. Sam Brant), John Hoyt (Dr. Willard Benson), Don Rickles (Crane), Morris Ankrum (Mr. Bowhead)
X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes is one of B-movie auteur Roger Corman's more interesting films, a science-fiction parable about an ambitious medical researcher who tests 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 and horror that fueled Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, especially the centrality of the well-meaning scientist whose experimental science goes horribly wrong, resulting in tragic consequences 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 not the "mad scientist" type that dominated science fiction films following the development of the atomic bomb in World War II. He is ambitious, though, and in science fiction, ambition often leads to disaster.
When first working on the serum (code-named "X"), Xavier has only the highest and most noble hopes for it, imagining it as a way of freeing human eyesight from the restrictions nature had placed on it by only allowing us to see one-tenth of the spectrum of light. What if we could see the whole spectrum? Xavier wonders. By being able to see through flesh and bone, he imagines a future where doctors would be able to diagnose illnesses and perform perfect surgery, which he eventually does.
Of course, as science fiction parables have taught us since the beginning, there are some things men of science are not meant to tamper with, and every scientific breakthrough has a price. There is a reason why we can only see one-tenth of the light spectrum; as Xavier eventually finds out, we are not emotionally or spiritually prepared for more knowledge than that. 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 ability allows him to see through people's clothes), it soon begins to overwhelm him. The serum is regenerative 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 kills his colleague and friend, Dr. Sam Brant (Harold Stone), and must hide from the police. He disappears into a carnival, pretending to be a crackpot fortune teller who reads the minds of audience members. Those who work in the carnival begin to suspect that there is something not 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 he uses his suspicions about Xavier to exploit him for profit.
X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes gradually devolves into paranoia and uncontrollability, as Xavier runs for his life through the Nevada desert, eventually finding himself at a tent revival where his x-ray vision reaches the pinnacle of its strength. In a strangely disturbing and mystical climax, the film suggests that Xavier may be able to see right to the core of the universe, perhaps finding himself faced with God, to which his only response can be that of Oedipus. The film plays heavily on the physicality of vision and the vulnerability of the eyes, and the images of Xavier starring out from the screen, his eyes turned into solid black masses that are begging to be torn out, is not one that is easy to forget.
Xavier's plight is familiar to those who know the tropes of didactic science fiction (it has something of a Twilight Zone feel to it), yet X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes works better than many of Corman's other low-budget efforts both cinematically and intellectually. The film is somewhat crude and mechanical in its low-budget aesthetic, yet it's hard to shake off its ideas. While not a work of great philosophical depth, it does get you thinking, especially its harrowing, nihilistic conclusion that introduces mysticism into the science fiction narrative in a way few other films do.
|X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes DVD|
|Audio||Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Roger Corman|
Original theatrical trailer
Original prologue sequence
|For a low-budget movie made on inferior film stock almost 40 years ago, X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes looks pretty good. The new anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer was made from a very clean print, as there are almost no instances of dirt, specks, or scratches (with the exception of the closing credits). Colors look generally good, if just a bit faded, and flesh tones sometimes appear a bit pale. Black levels are fairly good throughout, with some noticeable grain, but nothing distracting. Despite their bold colors, the psychedelic sequences meant to represent Xavier's point of view are of noticeably lesser quality than the rest of the film, but that is likely due to the fact that they had to be run through an optical printer numerous times in order to achieve the effects.|
|The Dolby 1.0 monaural soundtrack is about as good as one could expect. It is generally clean and distortion free.|
| Director Roger Corman contributes a good screen-specific audio commentary even though he claims this is the first time he's watched the movie in 20 years. He discusses how the movie came to be made, what some of his initial ideas were (he originally wanted Xavier to be a jazz player who developed x-ray vision after taking too many 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 more sporadic during the last third. |
The disc also includes a rarely seen prologue sequence, which runs about five minutes in length. The prologue plays like a bad educational film, attempting to set up the film's theme in an awkwardly didactic manner that most drive-in audiences would have found either insulting, boring, or both. Finally, the disc includes an original theatrical trailer.
©2001 James Kendrick