The 1960s through to the 1970s. When science didn’t really need a reason beyond “Why? Because it would be FUCKING AWESOME.” The Fly, Tarantula, The Amazing Colossal Man, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Crack in the World and today’s slice of Roger Corman B-Movie excellence – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes are all perfect examples of this “science for the sake of science” (See also Aperture Science in the Portal series of games) approach.
Ray Milland (Dial M For Murder, Battlestar Galactica) plays Dr Xavier (No, not that one, simmer down X-Men fans), a man chafing at the limitations of human eyesight. His experiments have only taken him so far, proving that he can enable a monkey to seemingly see through walls. Facing the imminent closure of his funding, frustrated at the slow progress, he decides to do what so many of the scientists of the time decided to do and test it on himself. It seems to work, but the effects are unpredictable and soon his desire to SEE becomes an obsession that costs him almost everything.
It’s a surprisingly thoughtful film despite the potentially schlocky subject matter, coming from a time when so many genre films really were just out to shock or titillate, with Milland playing it completely straight and serious, coming across as a man utterly driven in the face of all odds, while the script even manages to mix in some religious allegory which works surprisingly well. That particular section of the film also includes an early screen appearance from Don Rickles as the character of Crane and he’s a slimy, abrasive, nasty delight to watch.
The film is also very proud of its “Spectarama” filming effects for when we see through Milland’s eyes, though towards the end when large segments of the film are shot in this way it can get slightly grating, like trying to watch a film through a kaleidoscope held by a drunkard on a ship at sea, but fair play to their commitment to using it. It’s an interesting effect, especially when cleaned up like this, and audiences of the time had likely not seen anything like it before.
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Overall this is a fun little slice of science-gone-wrong hokum with a surprisingly downbeat ending. The story is very much of its time, when science was really all about pushing the boundaries of physics, ethics, morality and reality, commanded by MANLY MEN who wouldn’t let some silly girl tell them not to inject themselves with the potentially fatal drugs or try to transport themselves through space or transplant their head onto someone else’s body. No! That’s sissy talk! Now hand over the potentially deadly chemicals!
Even for the chauvinist era of that time, Xavier himself is a somewhat unlikeable protagonist, obsessed with his work to the point of excluding almost everything else, pushing aside any attempts to stop him or reason with him in his single-minded pursuit of seeing everything there is to see. He’s not out to help anyone, or better mankind or cure cancer, he simply needs to KNOW. The end of the film, almost every event that takes place in it, is solely down to his arrogance and reluctance to allow anyone to help him.
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Moving on from talking about the film, let’s talk about what Second Sight have provided with this physical release. It comes in a nice slipcase with new album art and inside that you’ve got a poster and a booklet. On the disc itself we have a solid package of extra features that include a new interview with director Roger Corman; an interview with Kat Ellinger, author and editor of Diabolique film magazine; and 2 commentary tracks, one with audio commentary by Roger Corman and the other with film critic Tim Lucas.
And more stuff as well! The commentary track from Corman is a particular treat. The film opens with nearly a full minute of a static shot of an eyeball as the music plays and on the commentary he quips “I don’t know exactly why this eye is on the screen for so long” and then remembers it was probably because they often had to deliberately pad the runtime of the credits to help boost the film’s overall runtime, and considering this clocks in at a very brisk 79 minutes, you can see why.
This is a quirky little film, not a must-own by any means but definitely worth a look for any fans of Corman’s work, and Second Sight have done an admirable job providing a physical release that’s definitely worth the money.
The Man With The X-Ray Eyes is out on Blu-ray on 4th May from Second Sight Films.