Tuesday, December 05, 2023

X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes

With more money for special effects, X (often given the off-screen subtitle THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES) could have been a science fiction classic. In one scene, leading character James Xavier looking with x-ray vision at a skyscraper is represented by a shot of a building under construction! As it stands, however, X ranks among director Roger Corman’s finest science fiction movies, anchored by a committed performance by Ray Milland (THE LOST WEEKEND) and an acerbic dramatic turn by standup comedian Don Rickles (BEACH BLANKET BINGO). Plus, boy, what an ending.

Dr. Xavier (Milland) is carving new paths in optical research, but is in danger of losing the grant money necessary to continue. Out of desperation, he tests his new eyedrops on himself, and gains the ability to see through walls, book covers, clothing, anything. Unfortunately, as his powers grow, his human brain isn’t advanced enough to process the otherworldly information his eyes absorb, which leads to insanity. Instead of the scientific breakthrough Xavier intended, his new power turns him into a sideshow act. He hits the road after being falsely accused of murder and hides out in a traveling circus owned by the crooked Crane (Rickles).

Though AIP marketed X with an exploitative subtitle, it’s evident Corman took the film more seriously than that, turning out a mature, thoughtful sci-fi parable. Robert Dillon (FRENCH CONNECTION II) and Ray Russell (THE INCUBUS) wrote the screenplay, and while Corman must add bits of unnecessary padding to reach a scant 79-minute running time, the script is intelligent and ambitious — too ambitious for the visual effects department to reach.

Diana van der Vlis (THE SWIMMER), Harold J. Stone (later in Corman’s THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE), and John Hoyt (ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE) provide more than capable support, and Corman repertory players Jonathan Haze (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and Dick Miller (A BUCKET OF BLOOD) offer humor as hecklers of Xavier’s carny act. AIP released X on a double bill with Francis Ford Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13.