X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, starring Ray Milland, Don Rickles, Diana Van der Vlis, by Roger Corman
Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, is a different science fiction/horror movie, in several ways. It has the well-worn theme of a scientist delving too deeply into things that man wasn’t meant to know.
The basic story is:
Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend) is a research scientist, who is experimenting with increasing the range of human sight. Humans see only 10% of the light spectrum, and he wishes to increase that. Both for the scientific curiosity, as well as the ability for himself as a physician to see better, to diagnose better, to be a better surgeon. His research funding is on the verge of being cut off, despite Dr. Diane Fairfax’s (Diana Van der Vlis) work on his behalf. She assists Xavier with an experimental drug on the eyes of a chimpanzee, and it works. The chimp literally has x-ray vision, but the shock causes a fatal heart attack in the test subject.
Experimenting on himself
Despite that, against the advice of his friend an optician Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone), he applies the drops to his own eyes and develops X-ray vision. But his continued application leads to growing trouble. His research funding is cut, and he returns to his work as a surgeon, conflicting with Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt, Attack of the Puppet People) since he can see that the elder surgeons diagnosis is wrong, and could lead to the death of a young girl on the operating table. He goes as far as to damage Dr. Bensons hand to force the issue and save the girls life …and face medical malpractice.
On the run
Soon, his continuing application of the eye drops first leads to a comedy scene at a dance, seeing everyone naked. And then to tragedy, as he unintentionally knocks Dr. Brant through a window to his death. This is perhaps the cheesiest moment in the film, and I laughed while watching that poor mannequin falling to its death. Soon, he’s on the run, hiding out at a carnival as Mentallo. He uses his x-ray vision to be able to see through a blindfold and pretend to read minds. The carnival barker, Crane (played very well by Don Rickles) at first thinks that Xavier is peeking through a gimmicked blindfold, then convinced that he can read minds and then decides to set up a scam where they fool the people into thinking that Mentallo is a healer not unlike the great film noir, Nightmare Alley.
Unlike that film, Xavier walks away from the con artistry, with the help of Dr. Fairfax who seems oddly devoted to him, since there’s not a romantic relationship between them. Also, Xavier’s vision is continuing to build. This forces him to wear the blindfold or dark sunglasses at all times and his vision continues to grow
Needing money to continue his research and acquire more of his formula what does a man with x-ray vision do? Drives to Las Vegas, of course, and use his vision to cheat, first at slot machines and then at blackjack. However, his arrogance has been growing along with his vision, and the casino nearly has him arrested until he causes a distraction by throwing money into the air, during which he and the female doctor escape.
Toward the end, Dr. Xavier is driving recklessly away without his glasses, and contact lenses making his eyes look appropriately bizarre but he crashes his car, crawls out, and runs across a revival meeting in the desert. The preacher mistakes him for a drunkard, and:
Preacher: Are you a sinner? Do you wish to be saved?
Dr. James Xavier: Saved? No. Ive come to tell you what I see. There are great darknesses. Farther than time itself. And beyond the darkness a light that glows, changes and in the center of the universe the eye that sees us all.
[Looks up at the sky]
Dr. James Xavier: No!
Preacher: You see sin and the devil! But the lord has told us what to do about it. Said Matthew in Chapter Five, If thine eye offends thee pluck it out!
And, with his eyes entirely black he does so, and the movie comes to an end.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is well acted, and enjoyable an above-average B-movie, which I rate a solid 3 stars out of 5.
Editorial Review of X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, courtesy of Amazon.com
Only the gods see everything, cautions one scientist as Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland) experiments with a formula that will allow the human eye to see beyond the wavelength of visible light. I am closing in on the gods, he responds with the hubris that is doomed to destroy his overreaching ambition. A mix of Greek tragedy and sci-fi potboiler, Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (simply identified as X in the eerie, odd opening credits) is a familiar tale of a scientist who risks everything to explore the unknown and is finally driven mad by, literally, seeing too much.
Peeping through the clothes of comely women is all good adolescent fun until the gift becomes a nightmare as his sight rages out of control. The possibilities suggested in the hints of addiction and inconsistent bouts of megalomania remain tantalizingly unexplored in the unfocused script, and Corman’s cut-rate special effects are often more hokey than haunting (the city dissolved in an acid of light that Xavier poetically describes becomes fuzzy photography through a series of color filters).
Don Rickles offers a venal turn as a scheming carnival barker turned blackmailing con man, and Diana Van der Vlis is understanding as a sympathetic scientist who tries to rescue Xavier from his spiral into tortured madness, but in the tradition of Greek tragedy, he is doomed to be destroyed by the very gifts he desires.MGMs widescreen disc also features commentary by director-producer Corman. Sean Axmaker