X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES
Here’s a film that should be
remade, an early sixties Roger Corman potboiler with an unusually imaginative
script that utilizes ominous Lovecraftian overtones. Interesting stuff, but
hopelessly dated in its low rent (even by 1960s standards) production values.
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was one of five films helmed by Roger Corman
for American International Pictures in 1963. It’s clear that an unusual amount
of care was lavished upon it, with the casting of Oscar winner Ray Milland in
the title role and the whopping 15-day shooting schedule (quite extravagant by
early-sixties AIP standards) Corman was granted by AIP’s notoriously
tight-fisted honchos James Nicholson and Samuel Arkoff. X also has an
invaluable asset in scripter Ray Russell, a writer who’d go on to pen several
powerful tales of horror/sci fi and script William Castle’s classic MR.
One thing that has always intrigued me about the film is the possibility,
suggested by Stephen King in his nonfiction tome DANSE MACABRE, that there might
have been an alternate ending that was never shown, apparently because it was
“too terrifying”. For years I figured this improbable tale began and ended with
the King book, as it contains the only mention I’ve been able to find
anywhere of this rumor...at least until the release of the MGM DVD in 2001,
which contains an audio commentary in which Corman admits he did indeed shoot
the alternate ending in question, which he says he came up with on the day of
shooting, but then decided he preferred the original scripted conclusion, which
is what remains.
Dr. Xavier has concocted a serum that can improve the vision of monkeys.
Unfortunately, said monkeys all die after being administered the serum. Xavier,
unwilling to admit defeat, experiments with the serum some more and decides to
use it on himself; he doesn’t die, but does develop X-ray vision that enables
him to see through women’s clothes and inside people’s bodies, which comes in
handy when diagnosing patients. One day Xavier’s vision reveals that a fellow
surgeon has misdiagnosed a sick girl and is planning surgery that may kill her.
Xavier does everything he can to stop the surgery, eventually finding himself
with no choice but to slash the hand of the surgeon. This gets him into hot
water with his superiors, and Xavier flees into the desert, where he finds
employment in the only place he can: a circus freak show.
But weird things are happening with Xavier’s eyes. They become grotesque
and discolored, forcing him to wear dark glasses everywhere. It seems that the
more of the serum Xavier takes, the more he can see. Eventually he finds he can
he see through the very fabric of reality itself and into the center of the
universe, where a terrifying all-seeing eye stares back. ***!!!SPOILER
ALERT!!!*** Eventually Xavier finds himself with no choice but to (as a
preacher suggests) pluck his eyes out, leaving two bloody sockets. (About that
alternate ending mentioned above: apparently this gruesome scene continued with
Xavier screaming “I can still see!”)
Roger Corman was never an Academy Award caliber filmmaker, but he knew how
to crank out extremely low budget features in stylish and entertaining fashion.
X has many interesting camera angles and innovative transitions to keep viewers
interested, even if the low budget is apparent throughout (check out that fall
from a building, presented via a patently obvious falling dummy) and Corman, in
true early-sixties sleazemeister fashion, shamelessly pads his 79-minute running
time (the reason a gratuitous plucked eyeball shot is held nearly a full minute
prior to the opening credits).
The biggest problem with this film from a directorial standpoint is that
its virtues are due entirely to the screenplay and lead performance. Certainly
its account of a man driven mad by the ability to see into the center of the
universe is a fascinating one, and Ray Milland delivers one of his best-ever
performances as that man (he later dubbed it one of his all-around favorite
There’s also the fact that Corman’s techniques have dated extremely poorly
in the four decades since the film’s inception. The special effects depicting
the title character’s x-ray vision, consisting more often than not of
out-of-focus cityscapes with prisms around them, may have seemed passable back
in the sixties, but not all these years later!
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY
American International Pictures
Director: Roger Corman
Producer: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Robert Dillon, Ray Russell
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Editing: Anthony Carras
Cast: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Don Rickles, Harold J. Stone, Jon Hoyt,
Morris Ankrum, John Dierkes, Kathryn Hart, Jonathan Haze, Dick Miller, Vicki
Lee, Barboura Morris, Jeffrey Sayre, Lorrie Summers