This movie is worth it for the opening credits alone, all spirals and floating eyeballs. The movie is uphill from there, too, as Corman shows he has a real knack for visual storytelling. Yes, unironically this movie is a real visual treat, and rife with all the little things that make movies of this time impeccably charming.
Basically, The Man with X-Ray Eyes is like a long episode of the Twilight Zone. The editing is really tight, a small brass section punctuates the tense scenes, and the protagonist gets more than they bargained for. Dr. James Xavier, played by Ray Milland, speaks in long, descriptive sentences, and makes an incredible breakthrough with his X-Ray eyedrops. Like any good physician, he tests the experimental treatment on himself. After a quick fly through shot in which we travel through the back of Xavier’s head and out through his eyeball, the treatment is a success but Xavier is a failure; a man nobody will believe and a doctor facing malpractice suits as a result of his wacky but accurate diagnoses. So again, he does what any good (failed) physician does…he runs away and joins a traveling carnival sideshow.
I don’t want to spoil all the quaint peculiarities of this film, because it really is worth seeing. It affords lots of opportunity for small rewards. That said, I myself enjoyed the vintage and nearly retro-futuristic technology and set design. The faculty lounge at the laboratory features a metal, faux wood grain coffee machine, the likes of which I have only seen once before about two decades ago, in an outdated funeral home. Just beautiful nostalgia. All the scientists smoke in the lab, and every shot of the world through Xavier’s eyes looks like a tripped-out instagram filter. Not sold? Have a look at the man himself, in his damaged condition.
One last thing, the ending of this movie makes me kiss my pinched fingers and blow into the air like a fat, cartoon Italian. It’s suddenly and impressively in the vein of great southern literature, and feels like a Flannery O’Connor short story, just for a moment.
Challenge Fulfilled: Directed by Roger Corman