X The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
X (1963) might be my favorite Roger Corman film. It works on so many levels both as a well-written sci-fi (the story is reminiscent of something Richard Matheson would write) and as a horrific tragedy.
Along with the disturbing The Inturder (1962), where Bill Shatner play a racist agitator, X is probably Corman’s most unorthodox film. That’s saying a lot considering a man whose works included Bucket of Blood (1959), about a smuck who kills people and sells their clay-covered bodies as art, and The Little Shop of Horror (1960), which defies description.
I agree with several observers and Roger Corman that The Mask of the Red Death (1964) is his most Ingmar Bergman-like film (see Steve Biodrowski’s Cinefantastique Restrospective). Mask is probably his finest horror film and X his best science-fiction. I first saw X as a child and the ending shocked me.
Today, after all these years I’m still a bit surprized it was even shown on television. Bless you “Son of” Sven.
Ok… The films opens up with an eyeball. Not just an eyeball but a bloody eyeball. If that was shown on TV it definitely got my attention as a kid. All that is missing is the optic nerve. Then a few moments later we see an eyeball attached to an optic nerve boiling in a beaker resting on a Bunsen (the man who discovered Caesium) burner. Then BAM: Hypnotic rotating titles…
Roger Corman had mezmerized me. I was hooked and got pulled into the strange tale of Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland), who is perplexed by the limitations that man can only see the visible fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. He develops a serum that allows him to see beyond the visible range. Dr. X is sorta like the proto-type for Helmsman Geordi La Forge of the Starship Enterprise. Except Dr. X uses no visor. He has very special eyedrops.
Corman doesn’t bother us with trivial details about what plant the tincture came from or how he got as far in his research as he has. This is incidental and has nothing to do with the story. Corman jumps right into the action around the premise that we now have a man with X-Ray vision. He can see through walls. He can see through clothing and he can see through human tissue. He is assisted by lovely Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis).
Dr. X takes another but larger dose and passes out. His underwriting medical research friends, including Dr. Willard Benson (played by the incomparable John Hoyt), decide the formula is too risky and label Xavier a nut job. Meanwhile, Xavier explores his new superabilities (I wonder if Stan Lee was inspired by this film to create Professor Xavier / X-Men in 1963? -Anyone know?).
Later, Xavier discovers a tumor residing in the abdominal cavity of a patient who is undergoing surgery performed by Dr. Benson. Xavier objects and cuts Benson with a scalpel. Xavier performs the surgery and saves the patient’s life. However, in doing so Dr. Benson threatens malpractice to Xavier for his unethical approach. Xavier’s behavior changes. His associate and friend Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) is convinced that the drug is affecting Xavier’s brain by way of his eyes and attempts to sedate Xavier.
Dr. X pushes Brandt out of a window who falls to his death. Xavier flees and ends up hiding as the mind-reader “Mentalo” at a carnival, where he has an uneasy partnership with Crane (Don Rickles).
Here he his heckled by Corman regular Dick Miller, who in turn is put in place my the amazing Dr. X. Crane catches on to Xavier’s act and realizes the guy is a healer and capable of making a lot of money. Crane exploits Xavier.
Dr. Fairfax finds Xavier and rescues him from Crane and they head to Vegas. Xavier cleans house, although I have to wonder how he got in the casinos wearing the shades he’s wearing. The X-Ray imagery or SPECTARAMA of Vegas by consultant John Howard and cinematographer Floyd Crosby (The Old Man and the Sea, 1958; High Noon, 1953; Pit and the Pendulum, 1961) is fantastic, and along with the jazzy and eerie waterphone warbler effects contributes immensely to the film.
Viva Las Vegas!
In Vegas Xavier loses his shades and then things get fun. I won’t spoil the ending of this timeless classic that dwells upons man’s existence in the universe. Bravo Professor Corman.
And that’s John Dierkes (The Thing from Another World, 1951) as the preacher at the end.