By the 1960's cult director Roger Corman had transcended his B-movie roots and demonstrated that horror and science fiction films could be vehicles for intelligent and literate storytelling.
"X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes" bears comparison with the best films of the era, in particular Jack Arnold's masterpiece "The Incredible Shrinking Man"(1957). The story concerns Dr James Xavier, ably portrayed by Ray Milland. He has invented a serum for improving human vision. When his funding is cut he proceeds to experiment on himself. The script is initially dull and talky, but once the exposition is dealt with the film can begin in earnest.
Dr Xavier's experiments succeed beyond his expectations. He initially displays an almost childlike delight at his discovery, indulging in schoolboy pranks such as observing women's underwear at a dance party. The film takes a darker turn when he inadvertently causes the death of a colleague and is forced to go on the run. He flees across a landscape rendered increasingly bizarre and surreal by his X-ray vision.
As his visual powers increase he begins to see too much. He clandestinely treats the sick, gaining a reputation as a miracle worker, but can no longer empathise with his patients; he sees the death beneath their skins. He goes to Las Vegas - his powers make winning at cards child's play - but by now he has lost all connection with humanity.
A notable highlight is a journey through Las Vegas, where the audience sees with Dr Xavier's eyes. The sight of the skeletons of buildings floating in space is weirdly beautiful.
The climax, imposed by the studio, is not the one Corman envisaged, but nevertheless is appropriately shocking and satisfying.
Despite its limitations (minimal budget, some wooden performances), this is an engrossing science fiction drama. It is conventional in its morality (scientist brought low by meddling in things best lest alone) but nevertheless tackles abstract themes (such as scientific hubris and the nature of existence) in an intelligent manner. Ray Milland's portrayal of a decent man driven mad by his inability to control what he perceives is superb. Roger Corman was rarely to equal, never to better this effort.