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X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (Blu-ray Review)

25 May, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Don Rickles, Harold J. Stone.

To appease anyone about to wave a red flag, I’m aware that those in the know much better than I continue to note that this one’s official title at the time of its 1963 release was simply X — and that the rest was only added for the newspaper ads that distributor American International Pictures concocted. Yet given what the 24th letter of the alphabet has come to connote not just in the movie industry but just about everywhere else, you can see why the more explanatory appendage has stuck around (on the Blu-ray box art and on IMDb.com, just for starters) all these years.

Besides, it aptly sets the table for what we’re about to see, just as The Thing With Two Heads did for a subsequent AIP Ray Milland starrer from 1972 that’s about to get its own Blu-ray release (from Olive Films) in about a month. If X can’t match the casting coup of Rosey Grier playing the other head, this earlier outing does feature Don Rickles in an early role as a remarkably sleazy heel even as sleaze goes. But he comes later.

Before that we have the set-up, and director Roger Corman was lucky to have not just an actor of Ray Milland’s caliber but also lucky that Milland had no aversion to working at ‘B’ studios (he’d starred in and directed a couple decent pictures at waning Republic in the middle of the previous decade). This is another movie about a scientist/doctor who ends up looking into the eye of madness because a) he’s kind of wired that way, from the evidence at hand; and b) smaller minds in the medical community have cut off his funding, forcing his embittered self to conduct vision experiments on himself instead of lab creatures. At first, his newfound ability to see through things pays life-affirming dividends; when Milland goes to what comes pretty close to looking like a Twist party, he (though not we, given censorship of the day) gets a nude-eye-view of the most comely 1963 dancers the film’s budget would allow (paging Ann-Margret, paging Ann-Margret). But when the fallout from all this scholarship leads to the messy death of a colleague and Milland’s resulting flight, quality-of-life heads south as one thing leads to another (including Rickles).

In addition to a Joe Dante intro, thee are a couple commentaries on this release: one by Corman and another by film historian Tim Lucas that knows where all the supporting cast members are buried. Both, pretty sure, note that the picture almost plays as a warm-up for Corman’s LSD adventure The Trip from 1967, given a protagonist who journeys into the scientific unknown and becomes disturbed by what he sees. And speaking of visuals, the contact lenses actor Milland had to don for the role make for a disturbing sight all by itself whenever his “Dr. Xavier” character removes the conversation-worthy glasses he now must wear (they’re real Percy Dovetonsils affairs) to reveal a couple of near-craters or at least something about as grotesque.

Depending on the market, the higher level (which meant color) AIP pictures were ether treated as shaky-‘A’ pictures — or they weren’t. In other words, I can’t recall if X rated a downtown movie-palace booking in my hometown (as later AIP’s The Wild Angels, Three in the Attic and The Trip did) or whether it was relegated to first-run bookings at the neighborhood theaters (the way Corman’s Tales of Terror and — just to explain the caste system I’m speaking of — Columbia’s Two Tickets to Paris with Joey Dee and Gary Crosby were). But in any event, Corman’s ability to shoot X in just 15 days still comes off as an amazing achievement (and even this was a Selznick-like production schedule compared to some of his truly meager projects). As Corman has always been among the first to point out, his cinematographer (Floyd Crosby, father of David) and art director Daniel Haller always had a way of making these movies look as if they’d cost ten times more than they did, especially on the Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Milland really gives it all in his final scene, though the finale would be stronger if he’d been able to mouth a line said to have been originally intended in the script (there’s much discussion of its scuttling here). Even so, Corman claims (in amazement) that Milland once gave an interview rating this movie along with Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend (and he got one, too) as the high points of his career.

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