Dr. James Xavier ia a world renowned scientist experimenting with human eyesight. He devises a drug, that when applied to the eyes, enables the user to see beyond the normal realm of our sight (ultraviolet rays etc.) it also gives the user the power to see through objects. Xavier tests this drug on himself, when his funding is cut off. As he continues to test the drug on himself, Xavier begins to see, not only through walls and clothes, but through the very fabric of reality!
Directed by: Roger Corman
. Starring: Ray Milland
, Diana Van der Vlis
, Harold J. Stone
, John Hoyt
, Don Rickles
, Leon Alton
, Morris Ankrum
, George DeNormand
, John Dierkes
, Bobby Gilbert
, Stuart Hall
, Kathryn Hart
, Ed Haskett
. Music by: Les Baxter
Science fiction which questions the very nature of existence itself is probably the most fascinating basis for a story idea addressed. Prior to X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES the only other film to explore this theme was Jack Arnold's profound THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) and both of these ground-breaking films paved the way for later endeavours like Stanley Kubrick's experimental 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was released theatrically on September 1963. On network television at this time were two important sci-fi/fantasy series namely Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Joseph Stefano's THE OUTER LIMITS. This Roger Corman work is very much the same school of science fiction as both of these series which places greater emphasis on strong writing, provocative drama, outstanding performances and ensemble casting as the main foundation for storytelling and focus for viewer interest.
Ray Milland as Dr. James Xavier sets the film's premise by noting that the human eye is only sensitive to one-tenth the spectrum of light and what would be seen if human vision developed enough to perceive the full spectrum. Unfortunately as his range of vision increases more and more his sensibilities prove inadequate to cope with the indefinable apparitions which he beholds and his radically changing perception of the physical world around him. The most significant and telling moment occurs when Dr. Xavier hiding out from the law in a tenement basement apartment (for the accidental murder of a colleague) peers upward with his super-vision penetrating through the ceiling of his room and sees beyond the night sky, past the starry heavens and beholds the very center of existence itself causing the awe-struck researcher to cry out in anguished torment.
Later with the authorities in hot pursuit, Dr. Xavier enters the tent of a road-show religious bible meeting and movingly tells the incredulous throng gathered within about what he has witnessed evocatively describing the vision as a "great eye" at the core of the universe which sees and watches us all.
The nihilistic ending of the film involves Dr. Xavier plucking-out his eyeballs (now no longer recognizable as eyes) at the impassioned urgence of a fanatical evangelist and his congregation with the image of Xavier's countenance freeze-framing to disclose his empty blood-red eye sockets then abruptly fading out to black (followed by the closing credits). This would seem to reaffirm the timeworn homily that there are some things man was not meant to know (or tamper with) and many critics and theatre goers understandably found this conclusion somewhat discordant and incongruous with the ideas and events which had preceded it. However this restructured ending was mandated at the insistence of the studio heads and is not the finale that was initially filmed. The original conclusion as intended had Dr. Xavier plucking out his eyeballs and looking around in confusion he cries out, "I can still see!" which sheds a different light for not only had his expansive vision enabled Xavier to observe the infinite but his heightened perception has now evolved beyond the need of mere eyes for sight.
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was the third of three interesting works produced by American International Pictures (over a two year period) which starred Ray Milland. The other two films were Roger Corman's THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) and PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) which Mr. Milland both directed and starred in. Not surprisingly Mr. Milland gives an exceptional performance as the ill-fated Dr. Xavier and his distinguished name and considerable Thespian expertise certainly gives this film much prestige and impact. Ray Milland is ably supported by a fine supporting cast of talented professionals including Diana Van Der Vliss, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles (in a marvelous straight character role), John Dierkes and a brief appearance by sci-fi film veteran Morris Ankrum (as a hospital board member).
Mention must also be made of Les Baxter's hauntingly atmospheric and unusual music score (particularly memorable is this compelling composition's wailing siren-like quality) which ranks among his best. Mr. Baxter is primarily known for his musical contributions to the early editions of Roger Corman's Poe series of horror films, AIP's Beach Party movies and other AIP hits such as William Witney's MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) and Jacques Tourneur's THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964).
X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is certainly one of the most important films in the catalogue of both Roger Corman and American International Pictures and marked Corman's welcome return to the sci-fi genre which he had abandoned since the late 1950's. At this point in time Roger Corman was riding the crest of considerable artistic and commerical triumph (thanks mainly to his renowned Edgar Allan Poe film series) and X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES came in a lush period of inspiration and creativity where this auteur director seemly could do no wrong.
Review by Jeffrey Talbot from the Internet Movie Database.