Director: Roger Corman
Script: Robert Dillon & Ray Russell
Cast: Ray Milland, Harold J. Stone, Diana van der Vlis, John Hoyt, Don Rickles
Running time: 79 minutes
Obsessed with expanding man’s powers of sight, respected scientist and physician Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) is working on an eye-drop formulae that enables the recipient of said formulae to be able to see beyond the visible spectrum. Despite the concerns of his colleague Dr Brandt (Harold J. Stone) and that of the administrator of their department’s finances, Diane Fairfax (Diana van der Vlis), Xavier experiments on himself regardless, in spite of having a monkey recipient of the drug dying of a heart-attack earlier. Obviously medical research health and safety policies were not the same back in the 60s!
Dr Xavier soon finds that he can see through layers of paper to the writing below and later can also see through clothing and through flesh. Unfortunately, he gets himself into hot water with the hospital when he assaults another doctor and takes over his operation on a small girl in order to save her life. Despite the fact that he does prevent the other surgeon accidentally killing the girl he’s barred from practising and has to go on the run after pushing another colleague out of a window, accidentally killing him.
He joins a carnival and pretends to read minds using his new found abilities, but the carnival barker (Don Rickles) realises that he’s sitting on a gold mine, when he starts to understand the true nature of Xavier’s power, so he sets the good doctor up as a healer, of sorts, but news soon gets out and his old life starts to catch up with him, resulting in yet more pain and misery for Dr Xavier.
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is a film that I’ve wanted to see for decades, after hearing a lot about it from other people and from reading reviews of it in film books. And I’m finally glad to say that it was worth the wait… Not only is it an entertaining watch (and funny in some places – especially during the medics party where Xavier realises that there’s a more personal upside to his new-found X-ray vision!), but it also asks some interesting questions about the nature of scientific research, such as just because we can do something does it mean that we really should do it?
Ray Milland is great in this movie and ably carries the film, even some of its more silly notions, with his authoritative delivery, including of some of the more cheesy lines. He’s helped along by other equally professional actors who bounce off him nicely, especially Harold J. Stone.
Roger Corman’s direction is succinct and he keeps the story moving at quite a clip, and the film is well shot, making good use of some interesting locations and sets.
The script is quite good and very descriptive in the language it uses, and there’s even a car chase, of sorts. Sadly, the ending is rather abrupt, but kind of works.
Second Sight Films are distributing The Man with X-Ray Eyes on Blu-Ray. There are some worthwhile special features including:
Audio commentary with Tim Lucas;
Audio commentary with Roger Corman;
The X-effect (14 mins) – An interview with director and producer Roger Corman who reveals that the original idea was for the main protagonist to be a jazz musician who’d taken way too many drugs, but that idea was quickly scrapped for the more plausible medical research angle. Roger Corman comes across as having amazing recall of the film shoot, considering how long ago it happened, and explains that during his lunch period, whilst shooting the film, he’d be planning and casting his next movie and then editing his previous picture in the evenings!
American Gothic (23 mins) – Author and Diabolique editor Kat Ellinger discusses the film and puts it into context, comparing it with other ‘American gothic’ films, and how it preys on existential fears.
Joe Dante on The Man with X-Ray Eyes (6 mins) – Dante explains how this is one of his favourite Corman films, and why, and reveals that he’s noticed that Corman seems to have an ocular obsession in a number of his films.
Trailers from Hell (2.5 mins) – Director and writer Mick Garris discusses his favourite Corman film, describing it as “an intelligent genre movie”.
Original Prologue (5 mins) – Starting with ink spreading out through water and then moving into some kind of voice-over diatribe talking about the five senses, and mankind’s’ seeking out of new experiences, this is all a bit pretentious and feels more like the start of a hipster documentary.
Trailer (2.5 mins) – The cool trailer emphasises lines like: “It’s like the splitting of the world; there’s so much light!”