X the Man With the X-Ray Eyes
There are certain movies that we see as children that stay with us our entire lives. Most of these are not great films; as kids we really couldn’t discern the finer points of the art of cinema. These were just fun flicks that we enjoyed on those Saturday afternoon matinees at the local movie theater. Like millions of other boys growing up in the fifties and sixties my favorite genre back then was science fiction. The movies we typically watched and loved were cheap in every aspect imaginable. We cheered as the handsome hero protected the beautiful maiden from the space creature ever though we call all see the zipper on the back of the alien’s costume or a hand pushing the rubber monster. They were corny made on budgets that even allowing for inflation would barely buy donuts for the craft services truck in a block buster Hollywood film. They were usually filmed in a matter of days allowing for some humorous mishaps making their way through editing. Above all else these are the flicks we grew up watch and the ones responsible for of love of movies that as lasted a life time. One of these flicks from my misspent youth hanging around movie houses is being re-released on DVD through Music Video Distribution. The film is ‘X – the Man with the X-Ray Eyes’. Like most films of this genre it is a cult classic best known to Sci-Fi aficionados throughout the nation. Also typical of this type of movie it has some really bad spots in it that make you wonder what they cast and crew were drinking. It also has scenes that will wow you completely. For many this will be more than just another ‘B’ Sci-Fi film it is a piece of our childhood and it is just as bad, and good as we all remember.
This is one of the many films made by the king of the ‘B’ flick; Roger Corman. If you are not familiar with his name then you have a long way to go before you can call yourself a film buff. He was and remains one of the most prolific producers, writers and directors in the industry. Many of his films were the staple of the old grindhouse theaters all around America. While few of his movies would be considered awarding winning one of his greatest claims to cinematic immortality is his long list of apprentices that worked under his tutelage. They include Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron to name just a few. Although Corman never received an Academy Award many graduates of the ‘Corman School of Film’ have one or more little golden men on their mantel. This film is a strange one for Corman but that in itself is typical of the body of his work. It was not as overtly exploitive as many of his films and had a stronger story line than most. Like most of his movies this was made cheap and fast. This is something many of his graduates have mentioned that Corman taught them how to make a film on a budget.
This film is up there and is able to hold its own against many of the better made Sci-Fi flicks of the period. It has an actual plot that does more than just bide the time between the minimal special effects. The protagonist, Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland) is a scientist who is out to expand the range of human vision. He has developed a serum that can be applied directly to the eyes in the form of drops. The only problem is sight is a rather subjective thing to measure. Animals would not be able to relate to him the changes they experience in their range of vision. He does not ever trust human subjects much. So, as many scientists in these movies he decides to test it on himself. At first he finds he can see through clothing. Okay, there are a few shots of women in underwear or naked from the back and for a ten year old boy in the sixties that was memorable in itself. This is way so many of my generation wasted their money on X-Ray specs advertised in the back of most comics. As time goes on Xavier continues to apply the drops and the depth of his vision increases drastically. Soon he is unable to see the world around him properly. Objects are only shapes and bits of color almost unrecognizable to him. The side effect of all such experiments back then was pretty much the same; the doctor begins to loose his grip on reality much to the chagrin of his associates. His eyes also undergo a physical change first changing to black and silver and finally all black. This forces him to wear wrap around sun glasses long before they were a fad. At the end he sees the all Seeing Eye at the center of the universe looking back at him. This in itself is a deeper theme than most Sci-Fi flicks of the time. It considers something that was a major concern to the public then as well as now; how far should science go? It is one of the age old questions that have faced our species of when scientific curiosity tries to delve into the mysteries of the universe. It doesn’t matter much that Xavier’s original intensions were good even admirable when he saw beyond what man was meant to see he could no longer hold on to his sanity.
One of the most notable things about this movie is its leading actor, Ray Milland. He won an Oscar for his work in ‘Lost Weekend’ and is another graduate of the Corman School. At the other end of the spectrum of his role here is the lamentable Corman cult classic ‘The Thing with Two Heads’. This demonstrates not only Corman’s range but also that of Milland. He gives real believable depth to his part here. This is a consummate working actor who is able to make the most out of any role he takes on. There is a natural progression to how he depicts the decent to madness that grips Xavier. You can see how the possession of his dream to enhance sight turns into the ultimate nightmare. There is also the transition from Xavier being a man of science and medicine to an outlaw and carnival side show attraction. All of this brings home the theme of how science cannot quantify everything in the human experience. These scenes also show that Corman really knew his way around a movie set. He has a style here that is straightforward albeit a bit trippy which was typical of the time. Corman was able to maintain the narrative of the story and elicit performances out of his cast far better than most ‘B’ movies. It is little wonder that so many truly great actors and directors got their start under this talented and highly unrated man.
This film is released to DVD my Music Video Distributors and it is plain vanilla with no extras. The video and audio has held up pretty well over the years although there are some scratches and flecks apparent. This is a classic, not just a cult classic and no Sci-Fi collection is complete without it.