Director: Roger Corman
Starring:Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles. USA. 1h 19m
This is easily one of my all time favourite sci fi movies, defiantly of the 60’s possibly in my top sci fi films of all time. It has a beautiful on point atmosphere of a retro American comic come to life and condensed into 1 hour and 20 minutes it keeps a busy pace with minimum fluff.
Dr James Xavier (Miland) is obsessed with taking mankind forwards scientifically, always looking for that miracle breakthrough he invents a new chemical, a drug which makes people see with X-Ray vision, excited about the possibilities and under threat of his funding being taken away he administers the drug to himself with dramatic effects. Through a series of unfortunate events he ends up on the run from the police but continues to develop the drug and probe it’s possibilities.
The movie captures a lot from the golden age of American comic sci fi, lots of kids comics used to advertise x ray glasses along with man eating plants seeds, and this seems to be every kids dream come true, of course until it starts to go very bad. At first it’s all fun and games, there’s lot of quirky scenarios where the gift of X Ray vision is played out in happy ways.
Milland is an amazing actor who doesn’t even need to try in this fantastical production. With his slicked back hair he even looks like the stereotypical “comic professor” if he has some gray sides he could easily be a newspaper editor. The supporting cast are strong but with the movies focuses so heavily on Xavier, everyone is kinda superficial. There are notable performances, especially from Rickles and cult classic Dick Miller, who appears at a magic performance and is shamed by the marvelous stage performer previously know as Xavier. Almost ashamed of having to live this circus life, he uses his ability to perform a lavish stage act, but in his personal time he’s still keeping a journal of his increasing sight.
The movie manages to transfer from a wonderful scientific journey with an invention that is lovely and shiny and can only be used for wonderful things, but this slowly descends into grief and madness as reality dawns onto the brilliant science guy and his attempt to see goes beyond any of his expectations and soon he’s not only staring into the void but it’s also staring back through it.
Roger Corman managed to create this film in just 3 weeks and on a shoestring budget, but a lot of success comes from the quaint effects that go to show the audience the xray world of the brilliant Doctor. By today’s standards they haven’t aged that well and are overused in the final act but they still fit the scene so much and look brilliant, the exact look and feel you’d expect and getting the look to fit together can be hard task
I admire the film for just getting to the story and sticking with it, as it starts to open lots of philosophical questions it doesn’t wander off on an emotional journey extending the run time beyond what is needed, but I think if it ran for another hour I’d still remained glued into the story which becomes very philosophical and deeper than the average 60’s sci fi movie by it’s dark and twisted ending.
Despite the small budget, rushed filming and limited technology, this delightful and intriguing science fiction pulp piece has a touch of the macabre about it the scientist god complex and the idea of seeing beyond the veil is a tough HPL but the Pandora’s box is opened and Corman does his best to show us every possibility in a level headed and wonderful way.
Related: The Fly (1958).
Lists: My Retro Sci Fi Favourites, Sight Flicks, 60 from the 1960’s, 16 Movies from 1963 still worth talking about
Article : Retro Comic Book Style Sci Fi.
Spotlight :Roger Corman, Don Rickles, Ray Milland, Dick Miller