Through his six decade career Roger Corman became famous for many things within the movie industry. As a producer he made hundreds of films, nearly all of which were a success and some of which gave big breaks to major Hollywood talents such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Robert De Niro, Joe Dante and Sandra Bullock.
As a director he has over 50 credits to his name ranging in genre from the macabre Gothic Edgar Allen Poe adaptations he made with Vincent Price to his atomic age monster movies like The Wasp Woman and dark horror comedies like The Little Shop of Horrors.
A Frankenstein-esque tale of a mortal trying to attain super human abilities The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, or X as it is also known, is a fantastic fable combining Science Fiction and horror. Written by Ray Russell and Robert Dillon this cult classic is a seemingly shlocky tale with a crazed set up which actually has much more depth than it may seem on first sight.
The excellent Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder) plays Dr. James Xavier a driven scientist and physician who is on the brink of a major breakthrough in his research. Attempting to increase the range of vision and let human beings see beyond the normal spectrum he has concocted eye drops that enable anyone to view the ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths and even further beyond.
During an experiment after a monkey dies of shock from what he sees, Xavier decides he must test his eye drops on himself instead. Assisted by Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), who has been sent from the foundation providing his funding, the formula seems stable and Xavier is able to diagnose a dying girl simply by looking into her body and seeing what is wrong with her.
Sadly no-one believes his optical skills are real and after his money is cut and he is kicked out of the hospital for malpractice, tragedy strikes further and he is forced to run from the law who think he is a murder.
Finding the only work he can given his desperate need to remain anonymous he becomes Mentelo a fortune teller working for a money grabbing carnival owner named Crane (Casino and Toy Story’s Don Rickles). Wasting his extraordinary powers on petty punters who think its a simple trick Xavier continues his experiments pushing his sight further and further but the gift he has given himself soon turns into a terrible curse.
Well acted and scripted Roger Corman’s film provides all the elements one would want in a tale about a man with x-ray vision. There are frequent POV shots and although the movie is limited in its special effects some still look good and the trippy light show that we witness along with the main character serves well enough to reveal the unseeable.
From the grotesque opening image of a blood shot eye ball to the gruesome medical marvel when he examines patients organs to the gratuitous titillation of the groovy dance party Xavier attends where he sees all the attendants in the nude, every base of the concept is covered to entertain and shock the audience and let them see what he sees.
Unexpectedly however is the tragic trajectory of the story and the deft way it deals with the reality of someone bestowed with such an ability. While his name may remind us of a certain mutant Professor this is no super hero film and Dr Xavier’s journey from discovery to destitution to self destruction is a surprisingly poetic and poignant portrayal of how a super power such as this would transform someones life for better and worse.
At the start Dr Xavier explains that we currently only see less than one-tenth of the actual wave spectrum “What could we really see if we had access to the other 90%?” he speculates. The Man With the X-Ray Eyes answers that question and its disturbing finale perfectly shows us all the penalty for playing God.