Sunday, October 4, 2009

324) Premature Burial (1962) and 325) The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963)

324) Premature Burial (1962) Dir: Roger Corman Date Released: March 1962 Date Seen: October 3, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

325) X (AKA: The Man with X-Ray Eyes) (1963) Dir: Roger Corman Date Released: September 1963 Date Seen: October 3, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

In spite of myself, I've started a mini-Roger Corman marathon with two films starring stuffy Welsh leading man Ray Milland. Milland's acting has never impressed me, not even in Fritz Lang's nutty Graham Greene adaptation Ministry of Fear (1946), in which he sweats up a storm and darts Nazi collaborators bearing mysterious cakes with the greatest of ease. His one-note delivery has never gotten under my skin but in both Premature Burial (1962) and The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), Milland displays anguished body language comparable to Jimmy Stewart's later performances.

Milland had more than a little help from Corman, an accomplished showman that evokes lingering gothic dread from what at a glance might look like campy set pieces. Corman pre-emptively compensates for Milland's shortcomings in both films by luring the audience's attention away from dialogue so florid it would make H.P. Lovecraft blush. For bait, he pulls out all the stops for a couple of awesomely foreboding psychedelic lightshows: fuschia and prismatic-rainbow color gels, lens filters and other lighting tricks; calculating, entrancing tracking shots; and, as usual, some of the most ravishing American studio soundstages, the kind that undoubtedly set the standard for the genre.

All of this should drown out Milland's quietly-mounting hysteria in the former film and bones-deep depression in the latter but somehow, it heightens them. Sure, new heights of kitschy ecstasy are reached as Milland shows off in Premature Burial the lengths he'll go to to escape being trapped in his tomb, including several sticks of dynamite, that newfangled invention Milland erroneously attributes to the Swiss scientist Nobel. But these tangential dalliances into aesthetic excess always return to Milland's body as the most salient sign of his emotional paralysis. And Milland really delivers, especially in Man with the X-Ray Eyes, where his slack shoulders and wan face betray the bitterness of a man that resorts to performing back-alley miracles to assuage his Promethean guilt. That may sound like hyperbole but to the character, the consequences of his actions are just that grave and monumental. For a little while, when Milland gets the opportunity to speak through his posture, I believed him.

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