X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes

Dir. Roger Corman

After his exquisite, highly literate Poe adaptations (House of Usher, Premature Burial and The Pit and The Pendulum) Corman returned to directing with this cautionary tale of dangerous curiosity and existential crisis. Dr Xavier (Ray Milland) is a scientist who has concocted a serum that allows the human eye to see through anything! Against the advice of his colleagues Dr Brant (Harold Stone) and Dr Diane Fairfax (Diana van der Vlis), he experiments with the serum on himself. Sure enough, he is able to see through things! Walls! Paper documents! Clothes! However, this being a cautionary tale about the dangers of venturing into scientific realms we probably have no business venturing into, things inevitably turn bad for our intrepid doc. After accidentally pushing Dr Brant to his death from a window, Xavier goes on the run and winds up as a fairground sideshow act, looking into people’s minds and reading their thoughts and social security numbers and being all ‘mystical.’ When his very real abilities are discovered by his employer Crane (Don Rickles), he is forced into providing a ‘healing’ service and gains the unwanted reputation as a miracle worker. Eventually he escapes and makes his way across a psychedelic landscape rendered increasingly indecipherable, to Vegas and the point of no return…

Quite typical of Corman, The Man With The X-Ray Eyes has a mass of pretty interesting ideas and subversive concepts that bubble beneath the veneer of an exploitable B-movie. The film’s low budget limitations however, ensure the grandiosity of these ideas often aren’t done justice, though Corman still achieves a philosophical air throughout proceedings with smart dialogue and a number of credible performances, particularly from Milland as the doomed doctor. 

When we are privy to events as Xavier sees them, the screen becomes aglow in colours and shapes and a sort of visual delirium seeps out of every frame.

As soon as we have the obvious visual gags out of the way, such as the hilarious scene at a party when Xavier sees through the clothes of the other party guests and we are treated to a carefully filmed (from below the knees or from behind the backs of the actors) orgy of flesh. We are also treated to the unforgettable sight of Ray Milland doing the mashed potato, a little too unenthusiastically. Things grow progressively morbid though. Soon, Xavier can see through the very fabric of everything around him, and he eventually glimpses the very centre of the universe. When he describes what he sees, the film once again becomes a stark voyage into one man’s existential hopelessness. Perhaps it is just as well that Corman didn’t attempt to film the horrifying visions Xavier claimed to see, and instead let the aural descriptions do all the shudder-inducing work.

The film contains effective dialogue that proves as vivid as some of the trippy visuals onscreen; at one point, when Diane and Xavier are driving through the city, she asks him how he sees it. His response is chillingly bleak and immensely provocative. ‘The city... as if it were unborn, rising into the sky with fingers of metal... limbs without flesh, girders without stone... signs hanging without supports, wires dipping and swaying without poles... the city unborn, flesh dissolved in an acid of light... a City of the Dead.’ Nice.

Another creepily effective moment occurs when Xavier awakens from the initial administration of droplets and we see, from his POV, Brant and Diana watching him with concerned expressions, only for the camera to move back to reveal Xavier is actually wearing bandages over his eyes.

When Xavier stumbles into a religious service at the end of the film, things become very Old Testament. Describing to the preacher what he has seen, he is bombarded by cries of "If thine eye offends thee... pluck it out!"

A film with a raw sincerity, containing more than a few genuinely thought-provoking moments and a chillingly unforgettable final image…


Anonymous said…
The vivid technicolour throughout this film makes it a real visual feast. Ray Milland is superb in his role as the tormented Doctor. An absolute classic!

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