Directed and produced by Roger Corman
Written by Robert Dillon
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Edited by Anthony Carras
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 79 minutes
Diana Van der Vlis as Dr. Diane Fairfax
Harold J. Stone as Dr. Sam Brant
John Hoyt as Dr. Willard Benson
Don Rickles as Crane
Barboura Morris as Nurse with young patient
Morris Ankrum as Mr. Bowhead
Dick Miller as Heckler
It’s my pleasure to present in this post the 1963 Roger Corman sci-fi / horror classic film, “X – The Man With The X-Ray Eyes.” This film is close to my heart being the very first science fiction / horror film I remember seeing. Once again I’ve taken a few liberties in my presentation of the film’s plot, but you should be used to that by now….
Read on for more......
(Spoilers follow below….)
Diary Entry Of Dr. Sam Brant
My friend Dr. James Xavier came to see me today for another
eye examination, the same examination I gave him just three
months ago! Very strange indeed as there is nothing at all
wrong with his eyes and vision. The trouble seems to lie with a
deep dissatisfaction within himself concerning what he sees as a
limitation with what human eye sight is able to perceive.
He is firmly of the opinion that he along with everyone else is
"blind to all but a tenth of the universe.” It quickly became
apparent to me that James has been planning to experiment on
himself to redress this situation. In other words, as he put it,
he is “closing in on the gods.” But don’t you realize James,
"my dear friend, only the gods see everything?”
Typed transcript of recorded notes (Dr. James Xavier)
Further to my research into “developing a way to sensitize the human eye so that it sees radiation, up to and including the gamma rays and the meson wind” (funding):
I received a visit from Dr. Diane Fairfax, the Foundation’s appointed liaison to special projects such as mine.
Concern was expressed as to my last report on my work (“dated nine months ago”) as well as the sum in excess of $27.000 of the Foundation’s money I have already drawn.
How can I make a bunch of business men and their appointee comprehend the kind of problems that need to be overcome in such a ground-breaking endeavor as mine?
The only way I could think of was to provide the good doctor with a demonstration involving one of the test monkeys that has “been conditioned” with the “standard pleasure-pain technique.”
Unfortunately the test monkey died in front of us, most likely from “heart failure, nothing else. I'd call it shock,” not so much from what it saw but perhaps more “because it couldn't comprehend or adjust to what it saw or saw through.” At any rate, there was no indication of pathology, degeneration and all its tissues appeared to be perfectly healthy.
As I tried to point out to Dr. F...sorry, Diane, I am “intensely curious” and driven by the end goal that is best exemplified right here in this hospital where there are people I can help “by seeing inside them as if they were windows, by seeing their sicknesses with a clarity that would make X-rays a tool fit only for witch doctors.”
It’s time for my research to be tried using a human subject but not some student or intern or convicted murderer. It has to be me. Sure, “that monkey died” but “it was a monkey, not a man.”
I’ll put my proposition to Dr. Sam Brant and hopefully after the expected initial reluctance, he’ll come around to my way of thinking and support me. I’m sure he will…...
“Experimental subject myself, James Xavier. Assisting in experiment, Dr. Samuel Brant…..The compound fully described in a written report has been prepared.”
Dr. Brant administers one drop into each eye of the subject. After an elapse of 8 to 10 seconds, I open my eyes. I can only describe the sensation upon opening my eyes as being “like a splitting of the world.”
My vision seems to be fragmented with “more light than I've ever seen.” My eyes, my entire mind seems “filled with light” so much so that I have to close my eyes.
After re-opening my eyes, everything once again appears to be normal. But wait! I believe I can actually read the words from my report that are presently covered up: "The exact combination of hormones and enzymes is to be determined by analysis." Dr. Brant will confirm this.
He will also confirm that I am now able to perceive the presence of a pen in his shirt pocket concealed by his lab coat, as well as a missing button under his tie.
The experiment works! However, “I have just penetrated the surface. My eyes are not quite conditioned yet, but it's a start.”
After the initial administering of the drops to James’ eyes, he expressed the desire to push the experiment further by having me administer another drop in each eye.
For James though, it seems that proving the validity of his theory and achieving the required outcome along with over-confidence and hubris is more important than avoiding
possible harmful consequences.
Despite my objections, James administered the drops himself after which he was rendered unconscious. It now looks as if I will have to accompany Dr Fairfax and speak on James’ behalf concerning his breakthrough and request the “continuation of his research funds."
It is the unanimous opinion of the members of this Foundation that although Dr Xavier’s experiment might on the face of it represent “a fantastic breakthrough,” it nevertheless seems to remain within the realm of what might be more appropriately viewed as “unbelievable.”
In addition, it is apparent that even though Dr Xavier’s work “can and will be repeated by others besides himself,” in relation to its potential practical applications, “there still is nothing positive that has come out of it.”
In light of the above factors, the members of the Foundation “believe our foundation can no longer channel its funds into this work.” We regretfully inform you that we have elected to vote against further funding the continuance of Dr Xavier's work.
So, “they decided to withhold the funds…..to just “cut me off like an arm with gangrene.”
I'll show them just how wrong they were just as soon as I get these bandages removed tomorrow. Bandages? “Hardly noticed them at all.” Not much can amount to an impenetrable barrier to me anymore, eh!? I’ll prove to them how it is possible to allow man to see far beyond the normal spectrum and how much it would revolutionize the world! Blind fools!
Many breakthroughs in science, art and other areas often result in a clash between progressive ideas and established orthodoxy. Witness the case involving Xavier demanding that Dr Benson reconsider the operation on the girl who he perceives has “a tumor directly in the auricle attached to the valve” and has therefore been misdiagnosed. In this case, there is a tangible benefit for the advancement of medicine to be derived from Xavier’s research. But what of the unforeseen consequences should he persist in using his formula unrestricted, unencumbered and unregulated?
Notice the dialogue during this scene when Xavier is approached by the young blonde babe and the amount of ironic and cheeky references to seeing and eyes:
“I saw you clear across from over there.”
“Gee, you've got sharp eyes.”
“When I use them.”
“I like the way you look, kind of urgent. I like men who look urgent.”
“I'm really seeing you for the first time.”
Now back to the consequences of Xavier’s actions as we eavesdrop on a whispered conversation between a couple of off-duty nurses, one of whom participated in the operation on the little girl who was diagnosed with stenosis.
Nurse 1: Just as the operation was about to commence Xavier said to Dr Benson, “Doctor, you must reconsider the procedure.”
Nurse 2: You’re kidding! And then what happened?
Nurse 1: Xavier then insisted that he should be the one to perform the operation and when Dr Benson told him that he was out of his mind and prepared to continue with the operation, Xavier sliced the top of Dr Benson’s hand with a scalpel!
Xavier now had no choice but to take over from Benson. He said something about some experiments he has been conducting which – now get this – allowed him to “see the heart and the lungs and the internal structures quite clearly” within the patient on the table. Xavier was able to establish that there was no stenosis as had originally been diagnosed by Dr. Benson. The operation was a success!
Nurse 2: What’s going to happen now? I mean, if it’s true then Xavier has accomplished something amazing….
Nurse 1: Hold on. You know what medical ethics boards and bureaucracy is like. I’ve already heard that Xavier will likely be tried for malpractice and unethical medical conduct. He can probably kiss his career good-bye.
The two nurses exit the hospital and walk past a kiosk selling newspapers with headlines whose level of hysteria progressively intensifies with each masthead and edition:
Los Angeles Daily Sunday Sun
Doctor Falls To Death
Los Angeles Chronicle
Los Angeles Chronicle
Doctor Killer flees
From the mix of fact and fiction certain tidbits of information can be gleaned:
That Dr James Xavier had been conducting ground-breaking experiments involving human eye sight. That he had been experimenting on himself. That he had been seeking funding to continue with his research. That he had an uncanny ability to diagnose patients without recourse to the usual medical techniques and resources. That he had conducted himself in a manner unbecoming to a trained professional during an operation resulting in injury to a colleague. That Xavier’s experimentation had been having a cumulative effect on his mental capacity leading to possible insanity. That Xavier’s mental instability caused the death of his friend and colleague, Dr. Sam Brant. That Xavier’s whereabouts is currently unknown and it is presumed that he is on the run and hiding out somewhere.
From our privileged vantage point we find Xavier (via a point of view shot) watching his step as he flees the hospital via the stairs. He is now on the run from the authorities.
We next see him hiding out in a carnival posing as a blindfolded psychic……..
Xavier’s Tape Recorded Notes On Progress Of “X” Experiment
“September 19th, the fluid is almost gone. I use only the smallest amounts now, but the effect seems to be cumulative. But how can I work without a laboratory, without equipment, without money to buy what I need? There's so much undone, so much I don't understand.”
My amazing ground-breaking research has been reduced to a form of cheap entertainment as part of a carnival show performance in which I pose as a blindfolded psychic, Mentallo. “One of the finest shows on earth” as the miserable little unscrupulous carnival barker, Crane likes to proclaim. Yes, step right up folks and see “The Mentallo, the man with the miraculous mind!”
What people don’t understand and find to be beyond their limited experience, they label as phony, a trick or fake and laugh it out of existence.
When confronted by the possible truth or existence of a seemingly impossible power or concept, people will often react with fear and hostility. Or they’ll run away and hide because powers like mine give them the creeps and make them feel scared.
Even with acceptance of the existence of such powers as mine, there’d be those who’d think that someone like me would or should aim to “be something big, powerful…. something special.” They’d believe that someone like that would be in possession of “secrets he could use" that would give him “a hold on people….Something to make them listen to him.”
It might even enter some people’s minds that such abilities as mine could be used as a force for good whereby they “could help keep people from hurting each other…..by telling everybody everything” so there’d be “no secrets.” Even if people still chose to fight about “ideas, thoughts, differences” the possessor of such power would stop them and make them do things his way or he’d hurt them all…..” A force for good! Really?
Well, when it comes down to it, perhaps much of mankind is like our Mr. Crane who’d be satisfied with all the undressed women his poor eyes could stand. As for me, right now I’d be happy with money and “to be able to open my eyes.”
James Xavier Tape Recording:
It seems that the question of obtaining money is about to be addressed thanks to the ever observant and opportunistic Crane. While I was attending a girl who was injured with broken ribs and a broken leg, Crane deduced that I had “the power to see inside” and that I was no mere mind-reader.
It would appear that under Crane’s ‘management,’ I’ll be making more money than I could “in 10 years working on the pier,” healing people just by laying on my hands. According to the enterprising little so-and-so, “we could set up a place in the city: Nothing fancy, no advertising, just through word….and we don't charge them a thing,
not one penny.” And how does he propose to make his money, why – through “donations” whereby “everybody gives what he can, just what he can!”
Xavier’s Tape Recorded Notes On Effects Of “X” Experiment
“The effects of the compound are still unpredictable. At times, I can see through walls, through stone just as easily as I can see through the air. At other times, I can hardly penetrate the first layer of a man's skin.
Sometimes I wonder why I keep on searching. I don't want power or fame or…….[Clicking sound as machine is turned off]
And what of the “X” effect thus far? What has it meant for me? “Sometimes, when I look up and I see all those people above me, pressing down upon me, the whole of humanity. And at night, while they sleep, I close my eyes and I can still see through my own eyelids. Oh, Lord. I'd give anything, anything to have dark!”
Xavier’s powers are growing stronger but they seem to be slipping out of his ability to control them. In a sense he is an essentially good man trying to help people, but we can see his anguished mental decline as he continues along the path he has chosen for himself regardless of the consequences.
By the time Diane locates him, Xavier is in a miserable state, feeling trapped and being blackmailed by the unscrupulous Crane who bluntly informs Xavier, “I've got my power over you, Mr. Mentallo...Dr James Xavier.”
As Diane and Xavier escape the avaricious grasp and glare of Crane and head toward Las Vegas, Xavier observes the city with a new insight and perspective. It is as if the city now stripped of its facade “were unborn, rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone, signs hanging without support, wires dipping and swaying without poles. A city unborn, its flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead.”
Xavier now turns his mind to using his power for personal gain in order to obtain more money than he’ll ever need. As he observes, “as a matter of fact, I'm the only man in the world, probably, who can get it and get away with it.” Las Vegas is the place “across the desert” that will furnish him with the money to finance his research and help him to solve his dilemma. As to the moral and ethical considerations associated with this course of action? Well, for those with access to power that can be all too easily overlooked can't it?
Sheriff: Now, Look Dr. Farifax, it’s pretty plain to me that you were aiding and abetting Dr Xavier who is not only accused of medical malpractice but also of the murder of his colleague, Dr. Sam Brant.
Diane: As I keep on telling you, that’s not how it happened!
Sheriff: What’s more, you agreed to go on the run with him and then wind up in Las Vegas where you both go on a gambling spree, miraculously winning $20.000. Boy, I wish I had that kind of luck, lady. Or maybe that should be ‘Lady Luck?’ Haw! Haw!
Diane: I told you already, it wasn’t luck. It was as a result of the experiments that James had been conducting on himself….
Sheriff: Oh, yes. That cockamamie story about, what was it – X-Ray vision! Haw! Haw! Don’t that beat all! What a doozy!
At this point Diane breaks down recalling what Xavier had gone through just prior to her being taken in for questioning.
Diane had many, many hours of explaining to do and after all the pieces of this fantastic story were finally put together from notes, recordings and eye-witness testimonies, she was thankfully exonerated.
We now find ourselves many months later as part of a congregation in a large tent during a religious revival. The evangelist pastor continues with his sermon:
Let me sing hallelujah! When he comes, hallelujah! Let me sing hallelujah on that day!
The children of God.
For we are truly God's children.
He will guard and protect us against the ravages of sin.
Now tell me, whom do we love?
Yes, we love the Lord. And what do we hate?
Yes, we hate sin. We must destroy it.
And how shall we save our souls?
“No,” saith he. “I've come to tell you what I see. There are great darknesses, farther than time itself. And beyond the darkness, a light that glows and changes. And in the center of the universe, the eye that sees us all."
I then looked steadfastly at the stranger in our midst and proclaimed unto him, “You see sin and the Devil! But the Lord has told us what to do about it.”
[Praise the Lord!]
“Said Matthew in Chapter Five: ‘If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out.’”
[Pluck it out! Pluck it out! Pluck it out!]
This indeed the stranger did do friends, choosing to blind himself rather than continue to see the Devil’s abominations. For according to Matthew, far better be it to lose any one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell…….
Sitting still and silent in a white padded cell within the secure environs of an asylum for the incurably insane, James Xavier seems to be staring directly ahead. No one can be sure what he might be thinking or even if he is capable of thought for he never speaks or responds when spoken to. What no-one could know is that behind the dark glasses that Xavier wears constantly and which cover his eye-less sockets, is that he “sees” what no-one else can see or should see – that which once seen, can’t be unseen…...
This was the very first sci-fi film I remember seeing. In the early 1960s, my parents operated a Milk Bar in Melbourne, Australia which didn’t leave them much free time. This was before the spread of supermarkets, and Milk Bars, which are now almost extinct, sold things like milk, bread, soft drinks, confectionery and groceries. There was a lot of competition between local Milk Bars and the operating hours were quite long in those days.
One day my dad decided to take me out for the day to get me out of the Milk Bar above which we also lived. My 'play' area consisted of wooden crates and empty Coka-Cola bottles out the back of the premises. So, leaving mum behind in the shop on a somewhat less busy day, Dad took me into the city of Melbourne to have a wander around and see what was what.
After our train ride into the city on a ‘red rattler,’ dad and I spent some time wandering around while enjoying our ice-cream cones. Suddenly, on a whim dad took me on a detour into a cinema. And guess what was on the bill! Yep, “The Man With The X-Ray Eyes!”
Now, what on earth was dad thinking taking a seven year old to see a movie like that, you may be wondering? Different times, my friend and besides I could get see it as I was in the company of an adult. And I don't think dad realized what the film was really about. Besides, I don't ever recall seeing films like "Fantasia," "Bambi," or "Mary Poppins" as a kid. Amazing what one fateful decision can lead to. In this case, a life-long fascination with science fiction films.
Well, there we were in the smoke-hazed cinema (you could puff away on cigarettes in picture theaters back then), and it wasn’t long before I was gob-smacked at the sight of disembodied eye-balls, weird looking eyes and suggestive glimpses at what lay beneath women’s normal attire, which I felt sure was supposed to be somewhat rude. I had to look away at times for a bit of relief only to see dad systematically stuffing his face and puffing away on a cigarette. Just when I thought it was safe to look again at the screen, the film’s ending hit me in the face. You’ll understand what I mean when you see the movie. For some reason the scene with the helicopter really sticks in my mind from that time.
After the film, dad tried to feign nonchalant disinterest in it but I knew better. I think he enjoyed it. As for me, I just couldn’t shake the idea of the prospect of having the power to see through people’s clothes! Was I traumatized by the film being so young? Probably, but if I was I got over it as I later became acquainted with such films that appeared on TV as “The Monolith Monsters,” “Them,” “Tarantula” and….well...just check out my blog and you’ll get the idea. Thanks dad!! The next week's excursion out with mum wouldn't be quite the same!
I guess the other reason as to why the film has a bit of a personal resonance for me is that now my own eye-sight has been steadily deteriorating for several years with a condition for which there is no treatment. Not that I’d want someone like Dr. Xavier fiddling around with my peepers! Still, you play the hand you’re dealt with and there’s many folks with far more severe visual impairement. Luckily these days technology provides a fairly good work-around. In fact, advances in technology would render Dr Xavier’s research rather redundant. Unfortunately for me it does take a little bit longer than it used to in order to put together posts like this.
The film was shot in three weeks on a budget of under $300,000. It’s running time was reduced to 79 minutes due to the removal of a five-minute prologue about the human senses from all post-theatrical prints of the film.
The effect of being able to see through a building was achieved by filming the building while it was under construction. For instance, the skeletal building seen from Dr. Xavier's point of view was the Department of Water & Power General Office Building in downtown Los Angeles that began construction in 1963 and was completed in 1965.
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes was Morris Ankrum’s final film with the exception of Guns of Diablo (1965), released after his death. This veteran character actor features in some of the classic sci-fi films that appear in this blog. See Tribute to Morris Ankrum.
In 1964, the film was released in Great Britain in a double-bill with another Roger Corman film, "The Masque Of The Red Death."
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes won the Astronave D'argento ("Silver Spaceship") award in 1963 at the first International Festival of Science Fiction Film (Festival internazionale del film di fantascienza) in Trieste, Italy.
The film contains a very salutary lesson concerning human hubris and the catastrophic consequences of the quest for knowledge which rises to level of attempting to see through the eyes of God.
Academy Award-winner Ray Milland delivers a fine performance as a character who we can feel sympathy for and whose motives are initially laudable. Even as Mentallo, the “man with the miraculous mind” he still tries to help people, but gradually and inevitably his drive, his quest for knowledge and his arrogance leads to a decent into hell. Ray Milland, had worked with Corman previously on the Poe adaptation “Premature Burial.”
Beautiful blonde, Diana Van der Vlis plays Diane Fairfax as the highly supportive girlfriend of Xavier. If only Xavier could have taken the time to see her, really see her for what she is. Then he might have come to understand what really is important in life.
The special effects are fairly crude by today’s standards but they are used to good effect to portray Dr. Xavier's greatly enhanced vision and to convey the new reality from the protagonist's point of view. Some people, however might relish the idea of a remake of the film using modern special-effects. Perhaps, but there is the danger of having the special effects overwhelm the entire point of the story. Not to mention the inevitable inclusion of PC twaddle and lashings of virtue signaling!
I can just see it now….