Wednesday, 10 February 2016

X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963)

What can I say about this title, it looks and reads brilliantly doesn't it, the only reason I watched the film. Its almost sounds like some kind of Marvel superhero character or smaller comicbook character brought to the big screen for the first time, love it. Alas this isn't a quirky comicbook hero but, even better, its another Roger Corman flick, so who can say what levels of awesomeness might be revealed there in. But seriously, just looking at the films poster is enough awesomeness cereal for me, look at it! its fecking...awesome! I just love the poster, it makes you wanna watch the film, it intrigues, excites and again looks like a wicked superhero flick (or supervillain flick), the colour scheme is spot on too.

The story follows Dr. Xavier (seriously...this isn't a comicbook flick I promise you), a man trying to increase the range of human vision because in America through the 50's and 60's, people in white lab coats did this kind of thing all the time. He develops eyedrops that should enable a human to see through the spectrums of ultraviolet, X-ray and beyond, into the unknown. So after some animal testing he goes for broke and tests it on himself, like any confident scientist would (not me!). At first things are a shock, naturally, but soon he comes to terms with his new vision and things go smoothly, very smoothly, so he continues to take the eyedrops giving himself even more diabolical wait, wrong genre. Of course this being a sci-fi horror of sorts its pretty obvious that things won't end well with this tale. Sure enough Dr. Xavier descends into a sort of madness as his vision becomes so powerful that he no longer sees as regular humans do, he sees on another level or plain, he sees the mysteries of the universe unravelled.

Let me start by saying this is not an action packed film in any way, there are no monsters, mutants, aliens, ghosts or anything of any kind like that in this picture. The film merely tells the tale of a single man who is able to see through things, of course him being a doctor the plot focuses on him helping people with medical conditions. Yeah sure there is the predictable gag about being able to see through peoples clothes in one sequence, you couldn't really not have that cheesy notion. At a party he can see all the young sexy ladies dancing around naked which you don't actually see of course, but like I said, it had to be done because that's the first thing everyone thinks of. Things get more interesting when you think about all the other devious, illegal things you could maybe get away with, exactly the same as the invisibility notion, moral ethics come into play.

Unfortunately that is one aspect I think the film could of done more with. We do see the Doc diagnosing a child who had been misdiagnosed by a fellow doctor and then saving her life in the operating theatre. After, as he loses control of his vision he still continues to takes the drops, which his close friend and colleague disagrees with, which results in a squabble and the accidental death of said friend. From this point on he goes on the run which leads to the inevitable carnival plot route, because people with these types of conditions always end up in a freak show at some point during these 50/60's sci-fi flicks. I did like this section of the film, I especially liked the stereotypically sleazy carny played by Don Rickles who doesn't even try to hide his sleaziness when showing little old ladies in to see Xavier. Could he be any more shifty?! look at his eyes woman! there's also a small uncredited role with a young Dick Miller here too. Later on we also see Xavier going to Vegas and trying his hand on the slots and cards, although I'm still not sure how being able to see the slot machine reels would allow you to win any easier, you still don't know where they will stop even if you can see all the images. Cards would be a better bet but even then, when the cards are stacked together flat, you wouldn't be able to see them, not clearly anyway. Still, I think we could of seen more with Xavier using his vision for monetary gain, the film spends so much time with him as a doctor in the first half that everything else, especially the casino stuff, feels rushed.

This isn't an effects extravaganza either I might add, what we get is very subtle, obviously basic by today's standards and there isn't much of it. Every now and then we get a POV from Xavier and his super sight. What we see are simple transparency/lens effects (superimpositions known as Spectarama) showing say...organs of a person or say, a pen underneath someone's blazer. Later on as the effects grow stronger we see a blurry, hazy, fuzzy image with all the colours of the rainbow shimmering vividly. To be honest after a time it does make your own eyes feel funny, what with all the colours, blurriness and talk of vision and eyes etc...The best and most eerie effect has to be the transformation of Xavier's eyes. For no real reason other than to look cool, his eyes eventually turn black with gold irides, later on towards the finale his eyes go completely black. Like I said it makes no sense at all really, but its just something to boost the effect of his visual powers, a cool fantasy effect which again harks back to my superhero thoughts.

The plot is admittedly highly generic and you're not really sure what Xavier's endgame is, what's his goal when things start to go wrong? I'm also unsure as how he would be able to see, literately to the centre of the universe, how would seeing the X-ray and ultra violet spectrums allow that? That is of course if he actually saw that, maybe he was just going insane from the constant kaleidoscope of bright colourful images he was seeing. Luckily the character is engaging and likeable, well performed by Ray Milland who looks effortlessly slick and cool for the whole run time. Seriously when this guy wears his protective shades, with his hair all slicked back, he has that classic, ice cool, Rat Pack air about him which really lured me in, dunno why. Considering he wasn't exactly a young man in this movie he certainly looked good. In general the film is very formulaic and doesn't really offer anything in terms of amazing original surprises. But despite that, overall, its really good retro fun, quirky with typical 1960's Americana sci-fi themes (which us fanboys love), and quite a creepy little ending which is also left open.