Sunday, June 19, 2011

X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES: I’m Looking Through You

In honor of the Roger Corman Blogathon, created by fellow blogger Nathanael Hood of Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear, Team Bartilucci is blogging about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963).

Dorian's View:
The X... DVD includes a great commentary track by the sepulchral-voiced Corman himself, as well as the movie’s trailer and its original prologue, which comes across like a well-done documentary about people and their senses. Vinnie quipped, “This could turn into a nudist flick any minute!” In voice-over, we learn how people compensate when any of their senses no longer function (we see a deaf man using sign language and a blind man with his Braille Reader). Suddenly Ray Milland stumbles onto the screen, and we’re startled to see that his eyeballs are pitch-black—not as freaky as the opening Corman eventually opted for in the theatrical release, a long tight shot on a bloody eyeball, but either way, X… grabs your attention and doesn’t let go!
I can see for miles and miles: Ray Milland
Ray Milland had always said that The Lost Weekend and X… were the films that he’d been the most proud of during his long acting career. I can understand why; both movies hit you in the gut, the heart, and the mind. Milland plays Dr. James Xavier, a dedicated doctor and medical researcher. As is often the case in Corman’s movies, Jim’s an outsider, a maverick. His unorthodox but brilliant experiments in ophthalmology attract wary looks and accolades in equal measure. He’s developing an eye-drop formula that could bring human eyesight to another level, one that would enable physicians to help their hospital patients by literally “seeing inside them, as if they were windows…seeing their sicknesses with a clarity that would make X-rays a tool fit only for witch doctors.” Jim and his supportive, attractive colleague Dr. Diane Fairfax (stage actress Diana Van der Vlis) test Jim’s eye-drop formula on a cute little monkey in their lab—but the poor critter dies after getting, um, super-vision. “What did he see? What did he see?” the worried Diane wonders. She and their friend and colleague Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone) are supportive, but the skittish higher-ups who run their hospital cut off Jim’s funding. Jim decides to eliminate the middleman by experimenting on himself. Didn’t he learn anything from The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll, Andre Delambre, and so many other well-meaning but ill-fated scientists who came before him?

It’s all fun and games when Jim is able to see through party guests’ clothing thanks to the magic of Spectarama, a photographic gimmick that makes Jim’s X-ray viewpoint look kinda like those colorful crystal prism suncatchers you find in New Age novelty shops. Kudos to Diane for having a sense of humor about this wacky episode! (I got a kick out of the doctor guests using syringes to mix their cocktails.) Milland and Van Der Vlis have a charming, sophisticated chemistry together, making them a delightfully urbane couple. But when a fatal accident propels Jim into the life of a fugitive (director of photography Floyd Crosby does a great job here, especially with the suspenseful, claustrophobic scene where Jim flees down flights of stairs), X… becomes increasingly tense and thought-provoking. Jim doesn’t have a moment’s peace one way or another; he can’t even close his eyes to sleep because of his X-ray vision (note the progressively larger, darker, clunkier sunglasses he wears over the course of the film). When Jim snaps, “Get out of my sight,” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, because that’s literally impossible for him now! The peril of playing God is a time-honored trope, but Corman and screenwriters Robert Dillon and Ray Russell do a great job of blending parables, suspense, and science fiction. Les Baxter’s quicksilver musical score ably covers the many moods of X… In addition to being a box-office hit, X… won the 1963 Best Film Award, The Silver Spaceship, at the First International Festival of Science Fiction Films.

This tight, tense, thought-provoking science fiction thriller packs a wallop, with excellent performances all around. Don Rickles was a revelation in a rare dramatic role as Crane, a sleazy carnival barker who makes the most of our beleaguered hero’s X-ray vision by casting him as “Mentallo” in a mind-reading act. Keep an eye out for Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze in the Mentallo scene, as well as an earlier scene with uncredited bits by character actors Morris Ankrum (I Wake up Screaming, Lady in the Lake) and John Hoyt, the most angular man in show business (My Favorite Brunette, When Worlds Collide, The Bribe, TV’s Gimme a Break).

How Dr. X. sees the world: This is Spectarama!
Vinnie's View:
This is rather an interesting change for us, 'cause it's the first time The Wife and I are writing about the same film. While her milieu is more the noir films, tongue-in-cheek thrillers, and other more respectable genres of film, I lean more towards the science fiction and fantasy areas, with a sub-major in comedy. So upon hearing about the Corman-a-thon, I took the initiative and suggested this film. I knew there'd be a dogfight for Little Shop, but X had always held a place in my heart for being a great example of what can be done under the guise of a simple B-picture.

After quite a bit of television work, Ray Milland made three films in rapid succession over two years for American International: The Premature Burial, one of Corman's Poe adaptations; Panic in the Year Zero, a classic Cold War thriller in which the bomb drops on L.A. and the people must do the best they can afterwards (which Milland also directed, and another film which I could go on about for quite a while) and the film we're discussing today, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes. Milland took to the fast-paced world of independent film-making easily; Corman describes him as a good man to work with, and utterly professional.

Co-writer Ray Russell came out of the gate with a first script that was also a far better film than it's remembered being, William Castle's Mr. Sardonicus, based on Russell's own novella. He followed this up with The Premature Burial, and another all-but-forgotten madcap classic for Castle, Zotz! So he came onto X with a short but solid resume. Corman's initial concept was for a jazz musician to gain the titular powers after excessive illegal drug use; the final idea of a research scientist experimenting on himself gave them the ability to examine the question without being forced to portray the drug as "evil".

Milland does not play Dr. Xavier as a "mad scientist." His experiments are solely for the benefit of mankind, as he displays early in the film, where he corrects John Hoyt's diagnosis of a young girl's heart ailment by looking into her and finding a tumor that escaped being caught on x-rays. The implication is that continued use of the drops may cause mental instability, which seems the case when in a fit of anger he knocks his friend and fellow Doctor Sam Brant (played by character actor Harold J. Stone) out a window.

A theme throughout the film are the ways that people would use the ability to see beyond the visible spectrum. Diane has to ask what the practical uses would be; Xavier uses them to save the young girl's life. It's only after he's forced to play the fugitive that he explores the more mercenary advantages of the power. He hides out in a carnival, hiding in plain sight as a mentalist; people naturally assume his ability to see people's secrets is a simple sideshow con. One carny presumes that the power couldn't be real; if it were, such a person could rule the world with it. But Don Rickles (who damn near steals the film as the carnival barker Crane) realizes that the trick is no trick at all, and has an idea on how to exploit it. He opens up an office in the Skid Row area and lets the word spread that Xavier is a "healer", and doesn't charge for a consultation, but will happily take "Donations." It's an interesting scenario; he's taking advantage of the poor people's simplicity and fear of hospitals, but Xavier is giving them solid medical info. Dr. Fairfax tracks him down after a number of people come to her practice with exactingly correct diagnoses for their ailments. As he grows more desperate, only then does he use his abilities where everyone else would have gone first: Las Vegas. By this point the pressure is getting to him, and he grows swaggering and arrogant as he wins hand after hand. Bad move, as when they challenge him on his skills, he loses his protective goggles and reveals his transformation, shown through a pair of Sclera lenses that must have hurt like hell.

This film was shot in a mere 15 days of principal photography, a schedule Corman describes as luxurious for him, as most of the time he would shoot in 10. But even there, he had the time to make the film look bigger than it had a right to be. He drove to Vegas and the Long Beach carnival pier with his cameraman to get enough B-roll footage to make the end of the film look like the cast were there as well. To show the way Xavier saw the city, Corman got second-unit footage of buildings still under construction, cutting them together to make it look like the doctor was seeing the facades vanish, revealing the girders beneath.

Corman is legendary for his work, and for the people he's mentored into Hollywood's upper echelon. Ron Howard got to talk about him when he got his honorary Oscar in 2009. I include the speech here as a testament to a man who can squeeze a nickel and get two dimes, and take an idea about a guy that can see naked people and get a classic.

2009 Governors Awards - Ron Howard toasts Roger... by dreadcentral


  1. Now this is the kind of review that I have come to expect from Team Bartilucci! Have you ever considered doing a review in the form of an interview or conversation? I would love to see how it would effect your arguments!

    Anyway, I have to say that of all of the Corman films that I've watched...and I've watched over 25 of them..."X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes" is easily in my top three. I fell in love with this incredible film! I wouldn't have watched it if you two hadn't recommended it so highly. And now I see (heh heh...."see") why!

    Also, I want to personally thank you both for participating in this blogathon! Team Bartilucci has long been one of my best and most enthusiastic supporters. I couldn't imagine my blog without your input! We REALLY need to finally schedule that dinner date, don't we?

    Also...don't forget to vote on the topic of our next blogathon by voting at the poll on my blog's home page. Additionally, don't forget to vote for the Readers' Choice Award this Monday!

  2. Intriguing tidbit from the IMDb: "It has long been rumored that a final scene, in which Dr. Xavier screams "I can still see!" was cut by censors. No footage of this is known. However, the movie does end rather abruptly just as Dr. Xavier seems about to say something, and those words would provide a chilling climax to the story. This rumor is false according to Corman. In a Q&A with Corman, he said this idea was discussed but never filmed."

  3. Hey, everyone, say hello to our newest TotED Follower, movie critic Kevyn Knox! If you haven't already done so, by all means check out his terrific blog, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FRAUD IN THE WORLD:

  4. the most angular man in show business

    This made me chuckle, because I don't think I've heard John Hoyt described in such a fashion. I remember seeing a rerun of Leave it to Beaver (it's the one where a test mixup proclaims Beav to be a genius) in which Hoyt played the headmaster of a private school Ward and June were going to stick the Beav in it and I got a little nervous because I was thinking "If John Hoyt is running this joint the end of this episode is going to be a blueprint for the movie if...."

    I've always considered X one of my favorite Corman movies--a subversive little flick that has a great plot and unobtrusive social commentary, plus a great performance by Milland...whom I'm not always wild about. Really enjoyed reading this piece, Team B!

  5. Ivan, we're delighted that you got a kick out of our description of John Hoyt! (The runner-up for Most Angular Man in Show Business: Team Bartilucci favorite Adrien Brody. :-)) Yes, I remember that LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode; I got a kick out of your musings about the end of the episode as a blueprint for ...if! Glad you enjoyed both the movie and our blog posts -- always happy to have you join the conversation here!

  6. Nate, thanks for your copious praise! Your thoughtful, intelligent blog posts are always must-reads, and we're honored and flattered that you enjoy our posts as much as we enjoy yours. However, if Vinnie and I did our reviews in the style of a conversation or an interview, we'd have to change the blog's title to TANGENTS OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, because when we're talking off-the-cuff, our respective trains of thought go all over the place. Even we lose track of what we're talking about! :-)

    Vin and I would be delighted to meet up with you one of these days in either NE PA or NYC, but fair warning: Vin's a finicky eater (unless meat is involved :-)), and we'd have to bring our daughter Siobhan with us. As I believe we've mentioned here and/or elsewhere, Siobhan has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. Although she's extremely high-functioning, sociable, sweet, and smart (she gets all A-pluses and B-pluses on her report cards, and she's made the Honor Roll 3 times!), Vin and I don't feel Siobhan is ready to be left home unsupervised just yet, and we don't have local sitters/aides that we trust. Happily, Siobhan is always good company, and she can act out scenes from her favorite films and cartoons like an expert voice-over artist! But enough of our loving-parent rambling, Nate; thanks for the invitation anyway, and thanks for listening!

    Looking forward to the Readers' Choice poll!

  7. Well Well! Look at you two...bringing a Corman review to another level.

    Unlike most of you 'serious' bloggers I haven't seen this little gem but after this review I will be and then I'll feel like a 'real RC fan' like the rest of you...TAKE THAT!

    This was a really fun way to do a review Dorian and I adore Vinnie as you know so it was nice that you allowed him out of his man cave long enough to share his opinion.

    In all seriousness (I can be serious but it doesn't happen often) I love this review and giving me a few laughs took it to the next level of FANTASTIC for me. The trivia was just icing on an already great review.

    I can't wait to see what you crazy kids come up with next.
    This Blogathon has been great fun. Now where can I order my Team Bartilucci t-shirt?

  8. Page, Vinnie and I loved your witty reply as much as we loved your uproarious LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS pictorial. We're honored and flattered that in addition to your praise of our X... post, you've also opted to be an official full-tilt TotED Follower -- beaucoup thanks!

    We laughed out loud over your "man cave" crack, too. Vin's man cave multitasks as his home office and library of comic books, comedic novels, and SF/fantasy novels. It's a fun joint! :-)

    What color and size do you want your Team Bartilucci T-shirt to be? :-) But seriously, Page, thanks for your fab and funny feedback on X..., and feel free to join the conversation any old time!

  9. Another nifty review from TB on one of Corman's most interesting films. I think the social commentary in X is a little heavyhanded, but I always admired Corman for not taking the easy out (see also his "message" film THE INTRUDER). Milland and Rickles are both good (though it's a very different film, I prefer Ray's PANIC IN YEAR ZERO). The ending of X is a stunner, one of those closing scenes that no one ever forgets. I'd like to quote the dialogue in that scene...but it would give away the ending.

  10. Rick, Vinnie and I both thank you for your X... accolades! I agree, that ending is a stunner; I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the most powerful endings in movie history!

    Vinnie bought and loved PANIC IN YEAR ZERO a few years back, and I've been meaning to watch it, but life happened to me while I was busy making other plans. :-) I must give it my undivided attention in the near future!

  11. Hey guys, you are a real team in every way! I absolutely love this movie -- I don't want to bring the wrath of Corman fanatics down on my head, but X was so good I didn't even know it WAS a Corman movie. LOL! I was used to either his wonderful Poe movies or his really shlocky types like "Wasp Woman" (which I can't help watching whenever it's on!).

    Ray Milland is a real favorite of mine, and he was just wonderful. It's hard to believe an Academy Award winning actor woudl be a good enough sport to do a movie the Corman way, fast and cheap! But I can see why he is proud of his performance in it. Vinnie, I've always wondered too how those black eye things must have felt!

    I've always heard that the ending was supposed to be Milland's horrible scream "I can still see", and it surprises me that Corman says it isn't true. Well, it would have been a great ending!

    Just excellent joint effort, and I really enjoyed it!

  12. Becky, Vinnie and I loved your comment that "X was so good I didn't even know it WAS a Corman movie"! :-) Reading our fellow bloggers' Corman posts reminded me that he's more versatile than he gets credit for. I guess you have to be when you can't count on a big budget! Thanks so much for your positive comments; we're looking forward to reading your Corman post!

  13. I would love to meet you all! You say that Siobhan has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. That's really tough...I should know...I've been battling both diseases for almost two decades myself. No kidding. I take three different kinds of medication daily to help control them. I know how hard it is to grow up with those disorders. I find that my blog really helps me speak up and express myself. Maybe Siobhan should start her own blog?

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    Nate, you're a dear! Thanks for your kind and supportive words about our daughter Siobhan! While I'm sorry to hear that you've been battling ADHD and Asperger's for some time, we're glad to hear you're managing with the help of medication, and we appreciate your willingness to share your own experiences with our family.

    We've been blessed in that Siobhan hasn't required medication, just behavioral training. She's become more sociable than many Aspies her age (or any age!), with the help of social skills classes at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Center. Siobhan has also proven to be high-functioning enough to attend our local mainstream school's classes since first grade, with an Inclusion Aide to help keep her focused when she gets distracted. The other kids have always liked her and vice-versa, which has been a big relief (the rare times anyone tried to cause her trouble, my Mama Bear claws sprang forth, and the trouble immediately evaporated. Nobody messes with our family! GRRR!!!). Siobhan's interest in cartoons and TV have actually helped her to make friends, since they all watch the same shows and movies! :-)

    Don't worry, Nate, we're not at all self-conscious about Siobhan's developmental issues. With more and more kids (and adults) being diagnosed with Asperger's in recent years, I wouldn't be surprised if Asperger's somehow became the new normal in this crazy old world! :-) Anyway, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask!

  16. My dear pals Michael and Denise Wolff have been trying to post comments about X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES all day, but Blogger won't let them! Therefore, my Father's Day gift to them is to post their comments here! :-)

    Michael Wolff sez:

    "Along with The Pit And The Pendulum, this is a movie that rose above its budget to find a secure place in the hearts and minds of 'serious' film critics everywhere, and insures that Corman's name will live on decades after more 'mainstream' directors have been forgotten. Excellent remarks from you and Vinnie on this movie (when the two of you decide to move up to an audio blog, please let me know). For me, this film is one of the reasons I feel Roger Corman always seems to have that 'just-ate-the-canary' smile on his face. When people tend to dismiss Corman's work as being amateurish, I feel obligated to ask if they could do better with hardly any budget and a fifteen-day shooting schedule.

    A lesser director would've also tried to constantly throw "x-ray effects" in our faces. But Corman knew how to depend just so much on visual effects, and allow actors and clever staging to carry on the plot. In this case we have the rather interesting sequence of Milland hiding out in Rickles' carnival. The back-and-forth dialogue between the two actors (as well as Milland's eerie presence, decked out in a pair of glasses I wish I could get my optometrist to prescribe for me), accentuates Milland's condition far more effectively than another fifteen or twenty minutes of Spectarama (I used to buy groceries at a Spectarama . . .)"

    Denise Wolff sez:

    "I liked the ending ‘cause it seems like he gouges his eyes out and then screams ‘I can still See!!’ and compared the depiction of gouging in the ‘50s (black lenses) and ‘10s (fully visual gory veins in your teeth depiction)."

    Michael, Denise, thanks for joining the conversation! In the meantime, I highly recommend switching your browser to Firefox; it's free and it works a heck of a lot better (it's sure made my life easier :-)) Happy Father's Day, dear friends!

  17. That's interesting Denise, because I had always heard that the original ending was to be Milland actually tearing his eyeballs out and then screaming "I can still see", but they thought it would be too disturbing. Anyway, that's what I heard....

  18. A wonderful double header here on a Corman film I saw many years ago and really want to take another look at. As I have been reading various reviews for this blogathon, I find I am repeating myself saying to many bloggers that the film they chose is is one of Corman's best. I come to realize this low budget, exploitation filmmaker made quite a few good films, more than I at first realized, because you can add this one to the group. Trash cinema of the highest order. Thanks to both of you for these entertaining looks at another Corman classic.

    - John Greco

  19. Yay, I'm so glad someone chose to do this film. I love that Corman was able to take such a premise and really find both the horror and the deeper ideas in it. I really like this double review. Do you two occasionally do film reviews as dialogue or discussion? Because you should. I didn't know that Milland was so proud of this film; that's pretty amazing considering many actors in his league were mightily ashamed of their slide into B-work.

    Is John Hoyt the most angular man in show business? I think John Carradine could give him some competition.

  20. It’s all fun and games

    HA! I love that subtle pun.

    This was a really great write-up. I admit I skimmed some because I have not yet seen this, but I had to laugh at the remark that this is so good you don't even know it's Corman. I didn't know it was Corman either until a few years ago; all the praise others had heaped on it kept me from even entertaining the thought that this was a Corman film!

  21. Wonderful review(s)! This is currently my favorite Roger Corman movie although I have not seen many yet. X felt a bit like a long Twilight Zone episode, although that may have been because it had several actors (Stone, Hoyt, Rickles) who were on that show. Oh and my favorite scene had to be at the dance party!

  22. John, thanks for your praise and comments! For me, participating in this Corman Blogathon was a great reminder of how clever and versatile Corman and cohorts were. I guess one movie fan's "Trash Cinema" is another fan's Treasure! :-)

  23. Stacia, you clever girl, I'm delighted that you caught on to the unspoken remainder of the classic "It's all fun and games..." pun! We're glad you enjoyed our X... write-up. Feel free to join in the conversation here at TotED any time!

  24. Rachel, Vinnie and I are glad you enjoyed our tag-team review of X! :-) And I agree, John Carradine should be added to our growing list of Most Angular Men in Show Business! :-)

    Funny, that's both you and our Fearless Leader Nate who've asked Vinnie and me whether we do film reviews as dialogue or discussion. Although X... is the first time we've each discussed our different slants on the same film, we've paired up for double-feature TotED posts to cover different but related movies in the same post, such as last year's Christmas double-feature of THE THIN MAN (me) and FITZWILLY (Vinnie), and our February "problem film" double-feature of THE LOST WEEKEND (me) and COLD TURKEY (Vinnie). Here are the links, if you're interested:

    Thanks for dropping by and joining in the conversation, Rachel!

  25. ChrisM, thanks for your praise of Team Bartilucci's take on X...! You make a good point about the presence of supporting players John Hoyt, Don Rickles, and Harold J. Stone giving X... more of a TWILIGHT ZONE feel, albeit with a bit more violence and gore. :-) I always get a big kick out of the party scene, too! Glad you dropped by, Chris; feel free to join the chat any time!

  26. Hey, folks, I've posted a comment on behalf of our smart and snappy pal and fellow blogger Yvette of " so many words" fame, for reasons that will immediately become apparent. So sorry Blogger's giving you such a hard time, Yvette. Come over to the Firefox side! Until them, here's Yvette's comment:


    How can I say this?

    Your blog is not letting me post a comment. There. I said it. I may begin to take offense. Ha!

    So here I am sending you my comment on THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES by email. :-)

    Since I’ve never seen the film, it’s hard to know what to comment about except that I do like Ray Milland but generally only in black and white.

    Why that should be I don’t know, except that it is.

    I was never a big Roger Corman fan (don’t hate me) but I have tried over the years to understand the enthusiasm that people have for his flicks.

    I really have tried…and tried…and tried.

    I think when people I knew were going to see the Corman films, I must have been doing other stuff. Or maybe it’s that once I saw blood in color I was traumatized for life and never wanted to see it again. Or maybe it’s that once I saw Vincent Price in color…

    Blood in black and white was enough, thank you. I was a very impressionable kid.

    I should forcibly sit down and watch five Roger Corman movies in a row. That would probably cure me of Corman-Phobia.

    Do you recommend it?

    I do, by the way, love your John Hoyt comment.

    He WAS the most angular man in movies. No question.

    And by the way: Did anyone ever see him laugh? Anywhere? Anytime?

    As usual, Dorian, I love reading your posts even if they are about films I’m not familiar with.


    And Yvette, yes, I do recommend X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES! There's some gore, but not much, and certainly less than in most modern horror films. It's really a very intelligent film, with one funny scene (the party where Our Man Milland discovers he can see through people's clothes, though it's relatively tastefully done), and after that, suspense and a surprisingly aching heart. It's worth a look! Thanks for joining the conversation despite Blogger being so temperamental, my friend!

  27. Team Bartilucci has Ray Milland's eyes on the brain this week! First we blogged about X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, and right now on TCM, THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR is on, starring Milland as an Army major with a bum eye, which helps Ginger Rogers to pretend she's a kid so she can ride trains cheap! :-)