See the Light: “X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes”

Ray Milland was an academy award winning actor. (He won an Oscar for his role as Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend). It seems odd, therefore, that late in his career he was involved in several low-budget sci-fi and horror movies. After having left Paramount in the 1960’s, he worked in TV and with such entrepreneurs of cheapjack movies like Roger Corman.

Sure, Milland did a few major studio roles during this time; he was Oliver Barrett IV’s father in Love Story and the sequel Oliver’s Story, he appeared in Elia Kazan‘s The Last Tycoon. But also he was in such grade B drive-in flicks like Frogs, The Thing with Two Heads, another Roger Corman movie The Premature Burial, and Panic in the Year Zero!, which he also directed, all for American International Pictures, which catered to the drive-in crowd.

It seems odd, therefore, that according to Corman on his commentary on my DVD, that Ray Milland said in an interview once that two movies of which he was most proud of were The Lost Weekend and X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes. You really should watch a movie with the commentaries if they are available, at least once. For one thing, SOMEONE thought it was worth the trouble to do it, and second you get some fascinating nuggets of trivia you may not have heard otherwise.

To be honest, X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes is a cut above the standard low-budget fare usually associated with AIP, and I think Milland is one of the reasons this picture is better.

X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963)

The problem with altruistic science is that sometimes it can go bad. And with low-budget science fiction movies, that’s a relatively frequent thing. Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland) is a doctor who is not satisfied with the normal range of vision that a human has. He wants to be better at his job, and as a result, has been experimenting with a drug that enhances the eyes.

In a demonstration to an associate, Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van Der Vlis), he shows how a monkey with the drops in its eyes can see through several boards and see the colors of each board behind the first one. But the monkey dies in the experiment. Not from the drugs itself, it seems; it dies because it can’t comprehend what it sees beyond the boards.

Despite this, Xavier experiments on his own eyes. And as a result, his first tests reveal he can diagnose a patient that his fellow doctor has misdiagnosed. But doctors in movies being ego-driven people, the fellow doctor refuses to accept Xavier’s diagnosis and proceeds to operate on his own diagnosis. Xavier causes the fellow doctor to be unable to perform and proceeds with his own operation instead. Although successful, the fellow doctor tells Xavier he will see to it that Xavier is brought under malpractice charges.

Xavier continues his experiments on his eyes, and at one point goes to a party. It turns out that one of the early effects is that he can see through the clothes of everybody. But don’t get your hopes up, this was made in 1963, so you only get to see naked people from the shoulder up and the knees down…

During a scuffle, Xavier accidentally knocks his adversarial doctor out the window, and the doctor plunges to his death. Realizing he will be accused of murder, even though it was an accident, Xavier goes on the run. He takes a job with a carnival, where he is billed as a psychic. His promoter is a real sleazeball played to perfection by Don Rickles — who finds out the truth and induces Xavier to become a low-rent doctor who gives people advice on their medical condition. And through these people he is eventually found by Diane.

When Xavier tries to dissolve the partnership with the promoter, the man tells him he knows his secret past and will reveal it to the police. Xavier leaves anyway, and the promoter shouts out the truth, which conveniently just happen to be heard by the entire state of police, apparently. He steals a car and a long sequence of a chase occurs as he careens down highways trying to escape.

I won’t reveal how the movie ends so you can have something to look forward to if you decide to watch it. One final note on the character, though. It seems that Corman’s original idea had been to have the character be a jazz musician who took too many drugs, but abandoned that idea because of the need, at the time, to make characters who took drugs be destroyed by their “lack of intelligence”, so to speak, in using drugs in the first place. Ah, the old Hays code…

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.

 

  • Butch Knouse

    This movie is good once, but Panic in Year Zero! is a classic of the drive-in sci fi genre.