When I was a kid I bought Spiderman comic books. A ton of them. I got rid of them before I moved into the house I live in now and I have regretted that decision more than once over the course of the last 18 years. One of the fun things in the back of those comics were ads for things that you could buy. Sea Monkeys didn’t do much for me, so I breezed past them.
What always interested me were the ads for the x-ray glasses. The drawings of these wondrous spectacles were amazing – thick, black rimmed frames with lenses that were in a swirly pattern! And, the ad guaranteed, if you purchased said spectacles you would be able to see the bones of your hand, and (gasp) see right through the clothes your friends were wearing!
The beginning of the 1963 science fiction / horror film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (directed by Roger Corman – Little Shop of Horrors, Beast from Haunted Cave, The Wasp Woman) always reminded me of those glasses – the opening sequence showed a swirly pattern as well as a close-up of a detached eye floating inside a beaker of fluid.
From there the film takes you on an interesting journey. The plot employs a lot of familiar devices:
- Brilliant scientist / doctor (portrayed in the film by Ray Milland – Dial M for Murder) uses funding from a foundation grant to subsidize his work on a formula for x-ray vision that doctors will use to treat patients.
- After promising results from an experiment involving a lab animal, the animal dies, leaving the prospect of human trials being performed at zero. Therefore, said brilliant doctor decides to sacrifice himself (of course he does) for the cause, and uses the experimental eyedrops on himself.
- Hilarity ensues when the drops begin working and the good doctor suddenly discovers not only can he identify sickness inside a patient but that he can see through party guests’ clothes!
- Things take a serious turn halfway through the film when the good doctor accidentally kills a colleague in a fit of rage (presumably a side effect of the eye drops) and goes on the lam. – Side note: a female colleague of Dr. Xavier, who witnesses the accidental death, doesn’t encourage Dr. X to stay and explain his actions to the police. Oh no. She basically insists that he get the hell out of dodge and become a fugitive. So odd…
- Dr. X, penniless and on the run, joins a sideshow carnival as a “mentalist.” The carnival is run by none other than a youthful (yet hair challenged) Don Rickles who turns in a great dramatic performance.
- Rickles’ character convinces Dr. X that if he really wants to make money the mentalist act isn’t going to cut it – he concocts a scheme in which Dr. X proclaims himself as a “healer”. People could see him for free to have their ailments diagnosed. They would only ask for a free-will offering.
- Meanwhile, the good doc’s eyesight continues to get worse, and with little to no money to purchase supplies to continue the experiments, and with the eye drop mixture almost used up, his temper flares again, and as he did before, he takes off in search of better sources of money. And where better to go to get some easy cash than Las Vegas!
I don’t wish to give away the climactic ending, but the last ten minutes of the film are chilling as the doctor comes to terms with the failure of his experiment. His way of correcting his mistake ranks up there with one of the more ghoulish sequences seen in a film during that time period.
If you have an Amazon prime membership you can catch this movie for free! They have it listed 3 times on their website – just make sure you select the one that says “free with Prime Membership.” At a little over an hour and 15 minutes, it’s a quick, yet interesting, watch.