"I can still see!"
X (now with the subheading The Man With the X-ray Eyes) is an early sixties horror film in the ‘mad scientist’ genre produced and directed by Roger Corman. The story is very simple; a doctor of medicine is enthralled with the idea of using more of the electromagnetic spectrum to see and when his research funding is cut off, he experiments on himself to test his theory. The result is an incredible ability to see far more than is normally possible, in effect giving him X-ray eyes; he can see through clothing, bodies, buildings – but the down side is he is in constant light, unable to switch off and it eventually drives him insane.
Cast out by the medical community, finding sanctuary as a carnival freak and trying to give back by becoming a ‘healer’, Dr James Xavier’s fate is sealed as soon as he takes the drops; the delicious irony is that for all his new found vision he could not see the outcome! It’s an old, old, story but one that, whilst familiar, even now seems fresh and exciting. Afterall comic books used to sell X–ray specs in their classified ads, and who wouldn’t want to be able to see through things! It’s this fascination that drives Xavier and compels the storyline.
Xavier is played by bankable character actor Ray Milland who imbues the scientist with a sense of longing and a hunger to do good, but is blinded by this need and suffers terribly for it. Ignoring all common sense and the advice of his peers he plunges headfirst into a situation that there is no way out of; it changes his character into an addict of sorts; see the gambling scene for an allegory for his temperament. Ably supported by the likes of Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone and Don Rickles, Xavier's fall from grace and chilling finale make for entertaining and satisfying viewing.
It is perhaps that last scene that is so traumatic though, whereupon seeing horror at the centre of creation he takes heed of the preacher’s proclamation "If thine eye offends thee... pluck it out!" and what else would a madman do? I have vividly remember seeing this scene on TV many years ago and have a 9false) memory of hearing that final twist line that has passed so far into the realms of myth that it never existed at all…
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