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

Hi all, Pam here. Continuing in my ongoing effort to make sure each letter on the MMT A--Z review list has at least one entry, I went back to the list of science fiction movies to look for an appropriately bad one that started with an "X." As with the letter "Q," I found that most science fiction movies starting with "X" were Chinese, but I did find an American one. In fact, it's called "X." Not only that, but it's available for free online. And best of all, Roger Corman made it, putting it automatically into the MMT-appropriate category. So here it is, folks: "X." Most sources call it "X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes," but the credits reveal that it's simply called "X." It was made in 1963.

Opening title card also just says "X", over some swirly headache-inducing proto-disco pattern.

One thing that worried me a little when I picked this movie was its star, Ray Milland, who is not what most people would call B-movie caliber. However, although he was unquestionably a great actor, he also wasn't extremely choosy about the sort of movie he appeared in, once he got older and his career slowed down. I decided I'd go ahead and review the movie anyway. Besides, this may be the only science fiction movie ever made that starts with "X" that isn't Chinese. The only other actor of any note in this movie is Don Rickles, making the movie even more interesting.

Milland had a shot at Grace Kelly and passed it up. And the world imploded out of sheer confusion overload.

For any viewers who were wondering just what kind of movie this is, the first scene tells you abruptly that it's most likely a horror movie. We get nearly a minute of a disembodied eyeball (a blue eye, as it happens) shifting slowly against a black background. The eyeball's all bloody and messy, not a pretty sight. Then we switch to something also not pretty, an extreme closeup of two bloodshot blue eyes set properly in eye sockets, although the eye sockets have awesome bags under them. Ray Milland was a handsome man and still looked good in a medium shot, but he was about 56 when he made this movie, and the years had left their mark. The owner of these elderly eyes is a man named Dr. James Xavier, and this is not a routine eye exam. He wants the exam to establish a baseline of his vision, because he's planning to help it out some. As he, and undoubtedly most of you, are aware, the light spectrum extends well beyond what we normally see. Dr. Xavier feels he's missing out on a lot of interesting stuff, and he plans to do something about it.

Ahhh! L'Oreal makes a really nice cream for those bags.

We switch from the ophthalmologist's office to Dr. Xavier's office, and we see that he has a (semi) pretty blonde associate. Look at her hair, stiff as a board! She's Dr. Diane Fairfax, and she's the one he chooses to confide his plan to. He's planning to sensitize his eyes so they can see past visible light portion of the energy spectrum, up to gamma rays. I'm not sure why he'd want to, and Dr. Fairfax seems less than fully supportive, too. However, she's here as a representative of the "Foundation," which feels that Dr. Xavier's research is sufficiently promising that it was willing to throw some money his way, and her job is to make sure that it's wisely spent. Instead of resenting her oversight, he leads her to his lab and proceeds to explain his research, apparently confident enough in its potential that he feels sure he can convince her it's worth the money.

Those flips must take hours to do every morning.

The lab looks like a real chemistry lab, although the glassware contains more different prettily-colored liquids than is likely in real life. The lab also contains a monkey, who will be the first to try Dr. Xavier's magic potion. The monkey's not too thrilled about the whole thing, but Dr. Xavier gets the liquid into its eyes. It seems the monkey's been trained to throw a switch to light up a blue, a red, or a white bulb, depending on what color it sees. (I thought the ability of the monkey to see colors was something thought up by the filmmakers for the sake of advancing the plot, but a quick look at the Internet showed that some monkeys actually can see colors.) Dr. Xavier has covered blue and red cardboard with white cardboard, and the monkey obligingly lights up first the white bulb, then the blue bulb, and finally the red bulb.

I failed to see any "No animals were harmed during filming..." disclaimer in the credits.

I'm venturing into unknown territory here, so any reader can feel free to set me straight, but I thought this mysterious solution was to enable the monkey to see X-rays? But would that allow it to see through solid objects? Its eyes aren't emitting X-rays, then receiving them after they've penetrated solid matter, are they? And even if they were, how could it tell what color the hidden objects were? Shouldn't it just be able to see any X-rays in the area? Am I right or wrong?

The pre-computer era must have really sucked.

Dr. Xavier is exultant, and Dr. Fairfax seems impressed, but the monkey isn't quite as happy. In fact it collapses onto the cage floor. My impulse would be to check to see if something in the eyedrops hadn't poisoned the poor animal, but Dr. Fairfax assumes it fainted from the shock of something it saw. Spooky music suggests that Dr. Fairfax will be proven right.

Some hipster electronica band simply must remix this scene.

In the next scene, Dr. Xavier and Dr. Fairfax each light up a cigarette to celebrate. In a chemistry lab, with lots of flammable materials around. No wonder Dr. Xavier's willing to experiment on himself, he clearly has no concept of safety. Their celebration might be a little premature, though, because from what Dr. Xavier says, the monkey didn't just faint, it died. He believes that the monkey died from simple shock, because it saw something it was unable to comprehend. In my opinion, it's time to stop the experiment until he can figure out what's going on and make sure he won't drop dead from shock, but Dr. Xavier doesn't share my opinion. He's going to charge forward and try the eyedrops out on himself. To be fair, he thinks that with his enhanced vision, he'll be able to see inside sick people and diagnose their diseases much more effectively than can be done with conventional medicine. Nobody can talk him out of it, and with the help of a colleague, one drop of the mysterious liquid is placed in each of his eyes.

Medical doctors, to boot!

It took the monkey only a couple of minutes to die from shock, but Dr. Xavier is made of sterner stuff. At first all he sees are some rainbow colors, but once his vision clears, he finds he can see past the blank page on top of a pile of papers and read what's on the sheet underneath. He also finds he can see the pen in the shirt pocket under his friend's lab coat and the walls behind the pretty liquids bubbling away under Bunsen burners. He may be feeling the same thing that I am, namely, Okay, this is interesting, but what good is it?, because he tells his friend to put another drop into each of his eyes. This time the effect doesn't seem as good, because he screams and covers his eyes.

His nostrils are huge!

In the next scene, Dr. Fairfax and Dr. Xavier's buddy are addressing a group of scientists (all men -- this was 1963, after all). Is Dr. Xavier dead? No, but his friend tells the group he's been unconscious since yesterday, the day he put the drops in his eyes. Unsurprisingly, the scientists feel that this is an experiment that should not be continued, and they refuse to allow any more funding for the research. The news is broken to Dr. Xavier, who seems to have regained consciousness. His eyes are bandaged, and in view of the experiment's effects, I wonder what purpose that's supposed to accomplish, and in fact Dr. Xavier mentions that he hardly notices the bandages are there.

His "super vision" scenes all have this fuzzy-edged lens filter effect.

Dr. Xavier's eyes heal or something in time for him to see his lab dismantled. Anyway, his eyes aren't bandaged anymore, and it seems that from now on, he'll concentrate on seeing patients and not do any more research. But there's a shifty look about him, and he sends the nurse away as he examines his first patient. His special vision is still working well enough for him to tell that the patient has something else wrong with her instead of what her doctor thinks she has. Her doctor won't listen, though, and Dr. Xavier can't bring himself to tell how he knows that the diagnosis is wrong. Dr. Fairfax chooses this moment to show up, and he confides to her that his special vision comes and goes.

Must have minored in Calligraphy in Med School.

Dr. Fairfax tries to cheer him up by dragging him to a party, where everybody else seems to be about half Dr. Xavier's age. The other partygoers are all doing one of those gyrating dances from the early 1960s, and Dr. Xavier looks downright pathetic as he makes a feeble attempt to participate. All too soon, though, he has to stop when his eyes start to bother him. He looks around, and from his point of view we see that everybody's naked. Relax, the scene is shot so we don't see much above the knees or below the shoulders. It looks as though his own view isn't so restricted, and from his faint smile, he doesn't seem to be bothered by what he sees, especially as some of the girls are quite pretty. He mentions to Dr. Fairfax that her backbone is remarkably lovely, which of course lets her know that the X-ray effect is back, but she doesn't seem at all offended.

You'd think wealthy, idle socialite girls in Southern California would be a bit more tanned.

The next day at the hospital, we see Dr. Xavier pocket a bottle of eyedrops labeled "X." Odd that they're still lying around, and in plain sight at that. You'd think the first thing that would be done when his research was deemed too dangerous was to destroy them. His X-ray vision is denoted by a yellow halo around scenes shot from his point of view, and as he continues with his daily routine, he's again greeted by the sight of naked people. The pretty young nurse gets an appreciative glance, but he's not nearly so happy to see the elderly doctor. Ray Milland does a really good job here of subtly conveying his reactions just enough so we can tell what they are, but not enough so the people around him would be likely to notice. His X-ray vision does bring him certain problems, though. For one thing, Dr. Fairfax is not as okay with it today as she was the night before. I'd assumed that the effects of the first eyedrops had caused a permanent alteration in his vision, but it seems to have occurred to Dr. Fairfax that Dr. Xavier must be continuing to use the eyedrops. Worse, Dr. Xavier gets into an argument with another doctor about the surgery a patient requires, and he goes as far as cutting the other doctor's hand with a scalpel so the other doctor will have to let him perform the surgery.

The Gray's Anatomy docs are much cuter.

The injured doctor lets Dr. Xavier proceed with the surgery, which I find hard to believe, since attacking a fellow physician seems to be a criminal matter, not to mention grounds for questioning his sanity. Fortunately for Dr. Xavier, he was right about what the problem was, and his operation is successful. After it's over, the doctor he cut says that Dr. Xavier will be charged with malpractice, which seems to be letting him off easy. However, Dr. Xavier shrugs this off, since he's noticing that he can now not only see under clothing, but he can see under skin (although he's been able to do this for some time, because he was able to see inside the patient to see what was really wrong with her). He deduces that the eyedrops have a cumulative effect, and he decides to keep on using them so he can see what happens next. Dr. Fairfax and his friend don't think this is a good idea, and the discussion gets somewhat heated. In fact, the argument culminates with the friend being pushed out a window.

"M...T...E, maybe...L...uh, is that a C? An R, no? That's all I got."

Unfortunately the window was high enough so that the friend doesn't survive the fall. Dr. Fairfax is a lot more sympathetic than seems reasonable, but Dr. Xavier retains enough judgment to know that even if she doesn't rat him out, a dead man on the pavement below his office window is going to result in an investigation, and there were plenty of witnesses in the operating room who can testify that he seems unstable, to put it mildly. He makes tracks outside as quickly as possible.

Not to be cynical, but it must be a slow news day in LA if this warrants a V-E Day-sized frontpage font.

But how is he going to live? He left with only the money in his pocket. We find the answer, and the second famous actor in this movie, at a carnival. Don Rickles is a barker outside a tent, and he's urging the crowd to come inside and have their fortune told. I'm sure nobody will be surprised to hear that the fortuneteller is none other than Dr. Xavier, now attired in an orange satin robe and a bandage over his eyes. Don Rickles promises that Dr. Xavier can read anything written by pressing it to his forehead, and he's no liar. Dr. Xavier blows away the audience with his accuracy.

Don the Sleazy Carnival Barker.

Once away from the madding crowd and out of costume and bandage, Dr. Xavier puts on dark glasses. He seems rather depressed, and he laments that he has no money for his research. Outside, the carnies are speculating on whether or not he's for real. Some think he is, some don't. When Dr. Xavier shows up, they offer multiple suggestions on how he could use his powers to make the world better. Don Rickles, for one, believes he has real powers, and his suggestion for making the world better is to use his powers to see naked women. Dr. Xavier has more elevated ideas: he says that what he wants is money to continue his research and to be able to open his eyes, but it's easy for him to be so dismissive of Don Rickles, since he can still see naked women anytime he wants.

Orange satin with a scorpion patch? Oh yes, please.

Next day at the carnival isn't quite like the day before, because the usual activities are interrupted by a woman's scream. It seems she's fallen from a ride. She's lying on the pavement, and Dr. Xavier's vision shows she has a broken leg and two broken ribs. In case you safety-conscious people were wondering, somebody did call for an ambulance, but there's no sign that the ride was shut down, and the carnival continues on uninterrupted around the unconscious woman. Were people falling from rides a common thing in 1963? But no matter. What's important is that Don Rickles has figured out from watching this that Dr. Xavier really does have X-ray vision. He's temporarily forgotten about his desire to see naked women, and it's possible he's actually a decent guy at heart, because he wants to open a storefront clinic with Dr. Xavier as the physician. He won't even charge, he says people will give donations, "just what they can." It appears that he leers as he says this, but maybe I'm prejudiced. Dr. Xavier grudgingly agrees.

The Doctor checks to see if this woman is boy-crazy or not.

Don Rickles is as good as his word, but he obviously doesn't believe in putting out a lot of money up front. The clinic-to-be is two junk-filled rooms in a seedy part of town. Dr. Xavier views his new digs with no particular pleasure but is willing to work with what he's got. However, he lays down the law to Don Rickles: from now on, under no circumstances is he to enter the doctor's private room. Once settled in, Dr. Xavier applies more eyedrops to his eyes. From the expression on his face, they're somewhat painful. However, they're still working, and he finds he can see through the wall paneling to the studs beneath (not that exciting a power to have, in my opinion), then he sees bright colors and something not revealed to us that makes him scream.

Ray Milland, rocking his Ray Charles glasses.

Is this the end of Dr. Xavier? No, the next morning he's putting on his heavy-duty dark glasses, now modified with an edging so no light can get through. (Did he do this himself? If not, who did it? It doesn't look improvised, it looks to be made from the same material as the glasses.) He does look pretty shaky, though, and after he's got the glasses on, he puts his head down on the table. Just then, Don Rickles brings in the first patient, an elderly and impoverished-looking woman who says she has a pain in her back. Dr. Xavier slowly removes his glasses, looks deeply into her back, and tells her it's nothing and the pain will be gone soon. Don Rickles isn't thrilled to see a patient leaving with no treatment and no "donation," but it occurs to him that this bit of honesty will attract more patients and be good for business. Dr. Xavier, however, seems sad as he points out that he can see what's wrong with a person but can't actually heal him. He also mentions that his powers are unpredictable, and at times he can barely see beneath a person's skin.

Is that Jessica Tandy?

Although so far he hasn't acted too badly, Don Rickles just doesn't seem like the kind of person who's content to help people if there's nothing in it for him. Now we learn that Nature wasn't unkind and gifted a generous man with a shifty exterior, he really is greedy, and he's beginning to become threatening as Dr. Xavier shows some reluctance to see other patients. Dr. Xavier gives in, proceeding to view a stream of patients and look downcast, while Don Rickles counts the money. It looks as though he insists on cash.

Don's hat is shady.

Don Rickles is still looking greedy and Dr. Xavier is still looking sad, when and old friend appears. Dr. Fairfax walks in through the front door, and, ignoring the protests of Don Rickles and the other patients, walks past the screen that shelters Dr. Xavier from the rest of the waiting room. He looks straight at her and can see that nothing's wrong with her, but he doesn't recognize her until she speaks. How did she find him? you may be wondering. It seems that people have been coming to her, telling her exactly what's wrong with them. She put two and two together and reasoned that he had to be the man who could know exactly what was wrong with them. It probably would have been a good idea for him to run a little further away, well away from anyplace connected to people who knew him, but I suppose hindsight's 20-20. She tells him it took her a month to track him down, although I'd think she could have just asked the patients who diagnosed them. It doesn't appear they're sworn to secrecy before leaving, they just have to give an appropriate donation. Now that he's got a sympathetic listener, he laments the burden he's carrying, which I have to admit really is pretty heavy, since sometimes he can see through his eyelids even when his eyes are closed. Then why doesn't he try not using the eyedrops?

Reconnected love.

But this doesn't seem to occur to him, and as Dr. Fairfax is promising to help him (forgetting that he killed a man and attacked another one with a scalpel?), when Don Rickles oozes in. He reveals that he's well aware of who Dr. Xavier is and what he did, but Dr. Xavier ignores the threat of blackmail as he packs his bag and leaves, trailed by Dr. Fairfax. Fortunately she does the driving, because at this point all he can see is a blurry rainbow and a jumble of naked shapes. He says he wants to go somewhere and learn to control his new vision, and when Dr. Fairfax points out that he'll need money, it occurs to him that Las Vegas isn't very far away (the movie's set in California). Too bad he didn't think of this before he started working in the sleazy carnival and Don Rickles got his hooks into him. He asks her to go with him, and she agrees! Can we say "poor taste in men" here? He's slashed one man with a scalpel, killed another, and has experimented on himself to the point where he's nearly blind and seems to be losing his mind. But off they go to Las Vegas.

Wait, a woman driving a car? In 1963? Is this madness!?!?

After a short road trip, they arrive at the city that never sleeps and head straight to a casino. I've been in real Las Vegas casinos, and the people in this one are improbably well-dressed, unlike real-life gamblers who tend to be on the sloppy side. Maybe things were different in 1963. Dr. Xavier applies a couple more eyedrops, telling Dr. Fairfax that the effect is wearing off, which doesn't seem to agree with the earlier implication that his vision is steadily deteriorating. Using his X-ray vision, he picks a slot machine that's nearly ready to pay off and feeds it a few coins until it does. With his new stake, he sits down at a blackjack table, where, since he can see through the cards, he makes a killing. Lucky for him his special vision worked just right instead of showing him the dealer's skeleton and the carpet the table was standing on, isn't it? In fact, not content with winning consistently himself, he starts advising other players on how to play to win. As you might guess, the casino management isn't happy with all this, and the manager asks to talk to him in private to make sure he won the money honestly. Whereupon Nutty Dr. Xavier makes his reappearance and he slugs a security guard, runs out of the casino, hijacks a car, and speeds off, leaving Dr. Fairfax somewhere in the mess. Oh, and his glasses have fallen off, showing that his eyeballs now appear to be made out of some kind of metal. He's having a hard time driving but gets out of town almost immediately (a little poetic license here -- the casinos are in the middle of Las Vegas, not on the outskirts). He's driving like, well, a blind man, and shortly he begins to hear voices, too. The voices tell him that he can't escape, which he probably already knew. However, it turns out that the voices aren't inside his head, they're from a police helicopter flying overhead, and they're right -- very shortly he runs the car off the road. During his wild ride, Dr. Xavier's been grimacing and opening his eyes very wide, which probably wasn't acting. Those contact lenses Ray Milland was wearing must have been brutally uncomfortable.

I'd hit on 13, but only if I didn't bet high, too risky otherwise.

So there he is, in the middle of the desert next to an overturned car, bruised and cut, pretty much blind, and wanted by the police. Not a good place to be in. On a more positive note, the police helicopter seems to have lost him, and he's standing right next to a road on which there is at least a little traffic now and then. Actually, as he staggers around we see he's not in a particularly remote location at all. There's a railroad track nearby, along with some small buildings and parked cars. He may not know this, though, because from his point of view, all he can see are rainbow blurs.

The pilot bullhorns that he's with the California Highway Patrol, but isn't this in Nevada still?

He staggers some more, and the helicopter reappears overhead, when he's lucky enough to stumble into the arms of the Lord. I mean that he walks into a tent in which a revival is going on. The preacher and the congregation are so busy denouncing sin that they don't notice the disheveled injured man who's appeared in their midst, until the crowd of sinners pushing forward to be forgiven shoves him under the preacher's nose. Dr. Xavier feels the need to discuss what he sees, which isn't much of the real world at this point, but he mentions that there's an eye in the center of the universe that sees us all. No wonder he couldn't drive! By now his eyes look solid black with purple bruises around them and are a pretty horrifying sight. The preacher informs him that what he's seeing is actually sin and the devil (although why couldn't it be God?), and he has a remedy at hand: he quotes "If thine eye offendeth thee, pluck it out!" Dr. Xavier's back in that state of mind that told him it was a good idea to run from the police, and the preacher's advice must sound equally good to him, because that's what he does (!!!). Thankfully we don't have to see him prying out his eyes, but we do get a glimpse of red eye sockets, and the sight is bad enough so I'd be cautious about letting small children watch this. Unfortunately for Dr. Xavier, the glimpse of empty eye sockets is immediately followed by more rainbow lights, implying that the remedy didn't do any good. In fact, many sources report that the movie originally ended with the line, "I can still see!" However, Roger Corman said that what really happened was that the line wasn't in the script but he shot it on a whim, decided he didn't like it and scrapped it, and it was never in the finished movie. And so the movie ends.

My eyes! My precious eyes!
(any day I can quote Phoebe Buffay is a very good day indeed).

As you may have noticed, I wasn't able to pound on this movie too hard. It wasn't Oscar material and was never meant to be, but it was a well-crafted little suspense movie with competent actors. The science is of course nonsense, but that's standard in most science-fiction movies anyway. Dr. Xavier's degree of X-ray vision isn't very consistent, and his state of mind also seems unpredictable. I suppose all that could be the result of the eyedrops, though. And I think it was a mistake to cast such an instantly-recognizable actor as Don Rickles. During his turn as Dr. Xavier's manager, all I could think of was, "Look! That's Don Rickles!" Somebody equally sleazy but unknown would have made it possible to concentrate on the action, not the actor. All in all, it was a decent movie that kept us guessing until the end, and it's worth watching (just be careful of the kids, though). And if anyone who speaks Chinese would like to expand the number of reviews for "Q" and "X," MMT would be grateful.

I know it's just a filler prop, but I can see the studio lights in the reflection, that's Corman- quality.

The End.

Written in January 2013 by Pam Burda.

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