“I’d give anything, anything to have dark.”
Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland) is a scientist who is trying to improve people’s vision. He develops a serum that, when used as eye drops, is intended to increase the range of human vision. The serum is intended to allow people to see beyond the “visible” spectrum into the ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths. Animal testing only gets him so far. He is unable to really determine what the animal is seeing. When funding for his project is cut Xavier discuses his options with wanna-be girl friend Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diane Van der Vils) and tries to enlist the aid of his friend Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone), but Brant feels it is too risky.
Undaunted and with much hubris he tries the drops on himself. So far so good. Xavier’s serum works. He can see amazing things. He can focus on a person’s body and see inside what is wrong with them. He discovers one patient was misdiagnosed. His ego and the surgeon’s ego clash. At times he finds amusement in being able to see through people's clothing.
Xavier continues to use the drops and, over time, his visual capacity increases but his ability to control it decreases. And he is more dependent on the drops. He must now wear sunglasses all the time. Even when he closes his eyes he can see through his eyelids. He is continually bombarded by light and images that he cannot process fully.
When he accidentally kills Dr. Brandt he goes on the run. Working in a carnival he bills himself as “Mentello” a sort of mind reader. At one point he works as a miracle healer diagnosing people’s illnesses just by looking at them. He goes to Las Vegas to gamble and raise money to flee across the boarder. All through the changes to his sight the combination of the drug and the things he is seeing begin to affect his personality. He becomes more isolated and beings to lose his humanity. And his eyes change too. The drops change them to the point where they are nothing more than black orbs in his skull looking out on their own and seeing everything.
“X The Man With The X-Ray Eyes” was released in 1963. It was produced and directed by Roger Corman. It is one of Roger’s better works. At times a very disturbing piece. The psychedelic effects are a nice touch. One of the things that bothered me is why he keeps putting that junk in his eyes. Especially if it is cumulative. I chalk it up to stupid.
It was the last film of veteran character actor Morris Ankrum. Don Rickles has a dramatic part as a slimy Carnival barker.
The film originally had a five-minute prologue about the human senses. The prologue was removed from all post-theatrical prints of the film, and may have been removed from some of the theatrical release prints. This reduced the running time to 79 minutes. The footage still exists but it doesn’t really add anything to the movie. A lot of DVD releases have it as an extra feature.
To create the effect of being able to see through a building, Roger filmed the building while it was under construction. I remember seeing the movie as a kid and the section of the movie where we see what Xavier sees while he is on the run made my eyes water. Though the special effects at the time were limited, the impression they make is intense. It’s not too difficult to believe that living like that all the time would change you psychologically as well as physically.
**Spoiler: There is an urban legend concerning the ending of the movie. There are many anecdotal stories of a lost ending, in which Xavier, having plucked his eyes from their sockets, exclaims: “I can still see!” This is apocryphal. Roger Corman himself debunks this particular legend. He did say that the scene was indeed discussed, but never filmed.**