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To this writer, the film is Roger Corman's best entry into sci-fi. Many
of his 50s efforts hold a certain campy charm, with their low-budget
effects - and this film is similar in that regard. It does not dwell on
the effects, in fact some of them are rather poor. What it does have in
its favor is a tight screenplay that gets into the story quickly, as
will the viewer - and it's engrossing enough and the characters
interesting enough that one stays involved through the episodic story.
What it has most in its favor is an excellent performance from Ray Milland, then in his last days being top-billed, and he milks it for all that it's worth. In some scenes Corman goes for a direct close-up and Milland's facial reactions indicate that he took the the role in a small-budget/tight schedule film with all the enthusiasm that he did in one of his roles for Alfred Hitchcock ("Dial M For Murder") or Fritz Lang ("Ministry of Fear"). Smooth, refined, but a man of immediate action if necessary, Milland's Dr. Xavier is not your usual mad scientist. As with Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man" or Al Hedison in "The Fly" he's the scientist who made the mistake of being his own subject.
Occasionally Corman goes for the cheap gag (the party sequence, where Xavier examines the guests sans attire - but inoffensive in a typical 60s approach), but the carnival scenes and the basement healer scenes show a maturity to Corman's direction, and these scenes are greatly helped by the performance of Don Rickles. He's as sleazy as one can get and admits that if he had the power, he would use it to see "all the undressed women my poor eyes can stand" and you believe it. A scene where Milland confronts other carnival workers who are speculating on his "power" shows the doctor to be both introspective and world weary at the same time. At this point even he does not know what to do with his ability, but Rickles' suggestion of setting up a site to "heal" others leads to the film's most revealing and almost poetic sequence. Xavier's original intention was to help the ill, but his implication in an accidental murder led him to seek refuge in the carnival Richard Kimble-style.
Diana Van Der Vlis does well with her underwritten role in which at one point she's rather quickly dropped, and then resurfaces rather conveniently later in the story - to no great effect. This was only her second feature film, though she had done a number of TV guest shots. Although half Milland's age, she seems more mature than her 28 years and they make a believable pair. A bonus is the appearance of a number of veterans in brief roles - John Hoyt, Harold J. Stone, John Dierkes and Morris Ankrum, as well as Corman stalwart Dick Miller. Miller shares his scenes with Jonathan Haze, whom it appears was getting the cheapest rate Corman could pay as he has no lines at all. He was rather bitter about this as he revealed in an interview years later.
Floyd Crosby's cinematography belies the small budget - only $300,000 and a shooting schedule of about three weeks. According to Corman they did rehearse a bit more than usual - and in the finished product it shows. He claims he even went as high as four takes, which may not exactly put him in William Wyler or Stanley Kubrick territory, but it's a far cry from what he'd do in the 50s. Les Baxter contributes what may be my favorite of his scores, fully complimentary to the action on screen without overwhelming it.
There's a bit of controversy over the ending - some attribute an extra line of dialog that never appeared in any print that I've seen, but it is still one of the most surprising endings of any sci-fi film since "The Incredible Shrinking Man." That it won the top prize at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival would be enough for one to be curious enough to see it even this many years later - that it has held up so well over 40 years points to that award's validity.
Here is Corman at almost his best. Ray Milland was as good an actor as
Vincent Price, and this story isn't trapped in the Poe mode of rotting
flesh and dilapidated mansions. It's more in the manner of Corman's The
Trip, which was made a few years later. Dr. Xavier discovers something
that he can use to see through solid objects, but its effect is
cumulative, and by the end of the movie he's seeing all the way to the
core of reality.
Of course, he has to go on the run, and must abandon his medical career. We see him in a carnival, reading peoples' thoughts, and later teaming up with his x girlfriend and going to Vegas and seeing through the cards and winning big, and finally, escaping from the police, and as he drives through the Nevada desert, we see that he can't see a thing. Abandoning his Lincoln Continental, he stumbles into a tent revival meeting. The preacher, played by Royal Dano(?)is telling his followers to throw Satan out. Filmed by Floyd Crosby, with beautiful special effects, this is a real piece of 60's film-making by one of the masters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Science fiction which questions the very nature of existence itself is
probably the most fascinating basis for a story idea addressed. Prior to
THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES the only other film to explore this theme was
Jack Arnold's profound THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) and both of
ground-breaking films paved the way for later endeavours like Stanley
Kubrick's experimental 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was released theatrically on September 1963. On network television at this time were two important sci-fi/fantasy series namely Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Joseph Stefano's THE OUTER LIMITS. This Roger Corman work is very much the same school of science fiction as both of these series which places greater emphasis on strong writing, provocative drama, outstanding performances and ensemble casting as the main foundation for storytelling and focus for viewer interest.
Ray Milland as Dr. James Xavier sets the film's premise by noting that the human eye is only sensitive to one-tenth the spectrum of light and what would be seen if human vision developed enough to perceive the full spectrum. Unfortunately as his range of vision increases more and more his sensibilities prove inadequate to cope with the indefinable apparitions which he beholds and his radically changing perception of the physical world around him. The most significant and telling moment occurs when Dr. Xavier hiding out from the law in a tenement basement apartment (for the accidental murder of a colleague) peers upward with his super-vision penetrating through the ceiling of his room and sees beyond the night sky, past the starry heavens and beholds the very center of existence itself causing the awe-struck researcher to cry out in anguished torment.
Later with the authorities in hot pursuit, Dr. Xavier enters the tent of a road-show religious bible meeting and movingly tells the incredulous throng gathered within about what he has witnessed evocatively describing the vision as a "great eye" at the core of the universe which sees and watches us all.
The nihilistic ending of the film involves Dr. Xavier plucking-out his eyeballs (now no longer recognizable as eyes) at the impassioned urgence of a fanatical evangelist and his congregation with the image of Xavier's countenance freeze-framing to disclose his empty blood-red eye sockets then abruptly fading out to black (followed by the closing credits). This would seem to reaffirm the timeworn homily that there are some things man was not meant to know (or tamper with) and many critics and theatre goers understandably found this conclusion somewhat discordant and incongruous with the ideas and events which had preceded it. However this restructured ending was mandated at the insistence of the studio heads and is not the finale that was initially filmed. The original conclusion as intended had Dr. Xavier plucking out his eyeballs and looking around in confusion he cries out, "I can still see!" which sheds a different light for not only had his expansive vision enabled Xavier to observe the infinite but his heightened perception has now evolved beyond the need of mere eyes for sight.
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was the third of three interesting works produced by American International Pictures (over a two year period) which starred Ray Milland. The other two films were Roger Corman's THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) and PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) which Mr. Milland both directed and starred in. Not surprisingly Mr. Milland gives an exceptional performance as the ill-fated Dr. Xavier and his distinguished name and considerable Thespian expertise certainly gives this film much prestige and impact. Ray Milland is ably supported by a fine supporting cast of talented professionals including Diana Van Der Vliss, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles (in a marvelous straight character role), John Dierkes and a brief appearance by sci-fi film veteran Morris Ankrum (as a hospital board member).
Mention must also be made of Les Baxter's hauntingly atmospheric and unusual music score (particularly memorable is this compelling composition's wailing siren-like quality) which ranks among his best. Mr. Baxter is primarily known for his musical contributions to the early editions of Roger Corman's Poe series of horror films, AIP's Beach Party movies and other AIP hits such as William Witney's MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) and Jacques Tourneur's THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964).
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is certainly one of the most important films in the catalogue of both Roger Corman and American International Pictures and marked Corman's welcome return to the sci-fi genre which he had abandoned since the late 1950's. At this point in time Roger Corman was riding the crest of considerable artistic and commerical triumph (thanks mainly to his renowned Edgar Allan Poe film series) and X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES came in a lush period of inspiration and creativity where this auteur director seemly could do no wrong.
This is one of my favorite Roger Corman flicks. Brisk pace and many
surprises. Don Rickles as a ruthless carny exploiteer is one of them.
Milland wears more and more ridiculous sunglasses as the movie progresses.
Seriously, this is one of Don Rickles' best performances -- it shows that he could have gone in a totally different direction than he followed for most of his career (as an "insult comedian") if he had wanted to. I imagine that his appearance in the film had something to do with his contract with AIP, but I still think it's a bit of VERY inspired casting (regardless of the financial reasons that may have been behind it).
Milland is also excellent in the type of role that suits him to a T... he gets to be kind of a Dr. Frankenstein here, convinced he's doing good for humanity but making himself into a monster in the process.
A memorable story with a meaning.
This was the typically-hokey-but fun Roger Corman film but one that
keeps your interest most the way and at least stars a famous
classic-era actor: Ray Milland. One actually wonders what an actor of
Milland's status would doing in a B Grade B-type sci-fi movie like
this. For someone who had admired Milland's work for many years, it
just seems odd for me to see him in a small-budget film. Maybe things
got tough for him near the end of his career and he would take most any
role. I don't know, and I'm not judging.....just curious why he took
this role. I do know having him in the movie elevates it and the dialog
isn't as cheesy as one would expect in a 1950-ish sci-fi horror story
made in the '60s.
Comedian Don Rickles playing a greedy criminal guy was another odd cast selection, but, he, too, was fun to watch.
Corman was smart to keep this at a respectable 79 minutes. Had it gone on longer, it would have started to drag. It would be interesting to see this film done with today's special-effects.
A very thoughtful, engrossing, flawed film from superhuman director/producer Roger Corman. Yep, it has some problems, most primarily dealing with a limited budget. But what it lacks in dollars it has in heart and its ability to make you think about what we are missing out seeing with our vision. I am not sure that much, or even any, scientific creedence can be given to the idea behind the experiments of Dr. Xavier James and his search to see beyond what normal vision allows. Ray Milland gives a fine performance as the obsessed man out to continue his experiments even if they involve using himself as the human guinea pig. Some of the scenes and dialogue are a bit hokey by today's standards but most fit the film very nicely. The scene with Milland at a party is a real hoot and great comedic relief. I also loved the end to the film but thought it could have been plucked out a little longer. The effects are very sparse and the only ones I really thought were any good were the ones used to highlight Milland's eyes through the film. The film boasts a fine cast of stalwart sci-fi/Corman people such as Morris Ankrum, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, and Barboura Morris, as well as a young(and obviously talented) Don Rickles. Definitely try to see your way to seeing this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes - Roger Corman (1963)
[FULL REVIEW - LIKELY SPOILERS]
To be sincere I didn't so much expect it to be but this was one AWESOME movie.
Written by Ray Russell, the story centers upon the brilliant if obsessive scientist James Xavier (Ray Milland)who is intent on expanding the range of human vision with his wonder drug 'X'. The extent of James' obsession is revealed in a conversation with his friend Sam.
Sam: "Only the gods see everything" James: "My friend, I'm closing in on the gods"
James' formula works, giving him the ability to see through people's clothing, their skin and even beyond. But disaster erupts when a cynical committee withdraws his funding and he is returned to routine clinical practice. A heated argument with a colleague over the operating table gives way to a freak mishap in which he causes the death of his friend and our brilliant researcher becomes a man on the run. He spends his time in hiding as a cheap carnival act, only unlike the others, his talent is no sleight of hand, no trick. Found out by his agent Crane (a brilliant, palpably sleazy turn by Don Rickles), he is arm-twisted into becoming a 'healer' for money.
All this while, his eyesight grows painfully more intense, perceiving radiations beyond the pale of the visible spectrum. In place of unaffordable fancy effects (and perhaps all for the better, although it is interesting to fantasize about a more technically accomplished version that would retain the soul of the original movie) the story uses gripping and evocative dialog to convey the frightening distortion of Xavier's vision.
Throughout the narrative there is an air of tragedy and horror. The lead character, thanks to Russell's writing and Milland's performance, has been etched out so well, you empathize at each moment with what he's going through.
The climax is a shocking literal interpretation of the biblical command "If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out"
Roger Corman is often passed over as merely a B-movie director, but
films like this one really show his brilliance. The Man with X-Ray Eyes
is chilling, ingenious and highly original; and this becomes even more
impressive when you consider that the film was shot on a shoestring
budget of just $300,000. Because of this, Corman doesn't go overboard
with the special effects, and as such; the film concentrates on the
implications of the lead character's predicament. This actually helps
the film, as the idea behind what is happening is far more chilling
than how it has actually happened. The plot follows a doctor doing
research into the eye. After discovering a new drug that can give its
taker X-ray vision, he decides to test it on himself due to lack of
funds. Before long, he finds that he is able to see through people's
clothes (surely a useful ability), as well as walls and other surfaces.
However, this new capability soon takes its toll on the good doctor, as
he loses the ability to shut out the light, and after a tragic event;
he has to find a new way to make a living.
Ray Milland, who worked with Corman previously on the Poe adaptation 'Premature Burial', takes the lead and gives a great portrayal of the doctor at the centre of the story. Milland is great at portraying a strain on a character, and that ability is put to best use in this film. The story is frightening because, as is said at one moment in the film, we only get one pair of eyes and therefore that pair is precious. The idea of not being able to cut out the light is frightening also, as while many people would see X-ray vision as an asset, this film does well in disputing that. The way that Corman portrays the 'X-ray vision' makes best use of the budget available and actually works rather well, as we get treated to seeing the world through the eyes of the lead character. The way that the story pans out isn't particularly original, but it works in that it's believable and provides a good backdrop for the major focus of the film. Overall, The Man with X-Ray Vision is proof that a film can work in spite of a limited budget, and while Corman may not be the best director of all time; he certainly knows how to make B-movies!
The sad thing about the film X is that it was 40 years ahead of its
time. Roger Corman should have done this or even redone this film in
the age of computer graphics. Maybe at a major studio perhaps.
But a major studio would never have taken a chance on a film like this. A science fiction movie without any horrific monsters or buckets of blood and gore, the moguls would reason who would want to see that? X could only be done at American-International Pictures and be done only with someone of the imagination of Roger Corman.
Ray Milland as Dr. James Xavier is a research scientist doing work in the field of vision. Dr. Frankenstein only wanted to bring life back from the dead. Milland wants to improve vision so that we see with the eye of God.
He develops a serum based on hormones and enzymes and you apply to the eyes. Milland sees things more clearly, but as was said in a film some thirty years after X, he can't handle the truth.
After accidentally killing a colleague friend in Harold J. Stone, Milland goes underground still continuing his experiments and working first at a carnival and then at a diagnostic/healer under the tutelage of Don Rickles. All the while colleague Diana Van Der Vlis is looking for him because guilty or not of the homicide of their friend Stone, Van Der Vlis believes in Milland and his work.
The climax of this film which takes place in a tent revival meeting is a sudden death one and unforgettable. Let's just say there are no good choices or fates left for Milland. And he's been given a clarity far beyond what any of these people in that tent can comprehend.
Don Rickles will surprise many with his performance as this bottom feeding carnival hustler at how good he is. Actually he's not wrong in what he sees as a practical solution for all concerned, hiding Milland from the authorities, making money, and allowing him to continue his research. But no proper doctor wants a partner like Rickles. It's like Colin Clive teaming up with Dwight Frye. Also in a small role at the end of the film is John Dierkes as the small time evangelist with the tent show. He's also quite good.
X does ask some interesting questions, much like the original Frankenstein movie. This film really deserves a remake.
I just (finally) saw this film a few days ago, after years of hearing
about it. The screening was the final show of a three-day SF/horror
film festival. After three days of films, most people were feeling a
bit loopy and ready for some light entertainment. As X opened, quite a
few members of the audience started treating it as an episode of
Mystery Science Theater 3000, shouting out their own (generally lame)
joke comments in response to the film. I was annoyed, because I'd been
looking forward to this film all weekend (although, in their defense,
certain lines have become unintentionally loaded in the comparatively
sexually liberated 21st century).
What I found fascinating was that, by 15 minutes into the movie, all the commentary stopped. Once the film moved beyond the talky opening scenes and stilted dialog, once the story really got going, everyone was drawn into it. They actually paid attention to the movie instead of each other.
As SF cinema goes, this is definitely one of the more entertaining, thoughtful, and intelligent examples (and intelligent SF film is a dying genre). This one goes well beyond the standard mad scientist formula.
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