Wednesday, March 30, 2011

4D Man – review

Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.

Release date: 1959

Contains spoilers

Friend of the blog Halek suggested this film as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ The fact that I’m reviewing it indicates that there was so much of a vampiric factor that I decided I didn’t have to investigate whether it should be classed as a vampire film; simply that it is a vampire film.

That said, I need to put a moment of explanation in. We are not dealing with the undead, but we are dealing with a man who becomes an energy vampire. Energy vampires have been a staple of the genre easily as far back as the nineteenth century vampire literature. But, as Halek pointed out, as well as the energy vampire there are other tropes within the film that are recognisable as coming from the genre.

in the lab
The film begins (after a groovy jazz accompaniment to the titles) with a man, Dr. Tony Nelson (James Congdon) in a lab. Outside a bell strikes and he turns the lights out as a security patrol pass by. He turns the light back on and plays with his equipment. He is trying to pass a solid object (a wooden dowel) through metal. He fails and the experiment goes awry, causing a fire. This is an extra-curricular experiment and he gets fired. Then we see him turn up at another lab where his brother, Dr Scott Nelson (Robert Lansing, Monsters: The Vampire Hunter), works. He is the lead scientist working on creating a new impenetrable alloy, assisted by his girlfriend Linda (Lee Meriweather) and the overly ambitious Roy (Robert Strauss, the Munsters).

shelter from the rain
Scott tells Tony that he intends to ask Linda to marry him. They all go out for dinner and, another day, out into the country. Linda seems somewhat flirtatious with Tony. This is not lost on Scott who makes an excuse to go. Tony and Linda then get caught in a rain-shower and end up kissing – though Tony breaks away and stops things there. Back at the lab, the next day, and the experiments are still failing and then a breakthrough and they create cargonite. However Scott has been going to the furnace room during the experiments – dangerous due to radiation released.

proof of theory
At the press conference to announce the breakthrough, Scott’s boss, Dr. Carson (Edgar Stehli), takes the credit for the discovery. When Scott gets home and tells Tony, the maveric brother states that he doesn't believe it is impenetrable and mentions his experiments using the 4th dimension to allow solid objects to pass through each other. When Scott seems less than supportive he goes upstairs and retrieves a successful example. The problem was he did it by accident; he is also convinced that he willed it through.

somewhat embarassing
Tony was ready to leave because of Linda but storms from the house at his brother’s disbelief. Linda follows and tells him she is his girl. He explains that he stole a girl from his brother before, but there is no denying their attraction to each other. Tony gets a job at the lab and Scott not only realises what is going on but is also seeing the doctor, Brian (Dean Newman), due to headaches. This is put down to his brain being too perfect – a possible effect of the radiation. He asks Linda to marry him and is rejected. Walking, he finds himself at the labs and, angry at his brother, breaks open Tony’s locker. He starts experimenting with the equipment and pushes his fingers through metal. Panicked, it takes time to get them out but it is then confirmed, by Tony, that the machine was not functioning, Scott willed it to happen.

first contact with Brian
From this point on he can pass through walls, he becomes criminal in his actions (for instance robbing a bank) and more and more insane – as a result of the dumping and various betrayals or because of the ability we don’t know. Probably a bit of both. As for the vampire aspect. The fact that he is solid but can also pass through the narrowest of cracks (in this case between atoms) is straight out of Stoker. However that would be flimsy. What we discover, when he goes to Brian for help and accidentally puts his hands into the doctor’s body, is that he can drain the lifeforce from another.

a victim
Later we discover that he uses up a large amount of energy – years’ worth – as he goes 4d. This needs to be replaced and when he touches a victim (albeit two of his kills are accidental) he steals their lifeforce, and essentially their time, causing them to age massively – to the point that they die of old age. A cop states that he “saps the life out of a man like juice out of an orange”.

aged and quite insane
As for Scott as he fails to feed he becomes older and older looking. This is, of course, a familiar trope. It was a cornerstone of Dracula. Another vampire trope used is a massive spoiler, unfortunately, as it was in the way he was stopped. Suffice it to say that Linda has to be prepared to sacrifice herself in much the way that Ellen did in Nosferatu, the big difference in this is that she is not instructed in this but choses the path herself.

a victim
This was, all in all, a fun watch. Some 50s science fiction and a non-supernatural basis for the vampirism – albeit an energy vampire. The cast work well, Lansing played his character at just the right level of dour and Meriwether offered a natural performance and delivered a female character who, unusually for the time, knew her own mind and proved strong and determined. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Nice review! I agree that 4D Man is definitely a vampire film.

The scene of nocturnal stalking of a woman in her bedroom is also suggestive of a common vampire trope.

The fifties were an interesting period for vampire films since it was after the Universal Dracula franchise but before the reign of Hammer. The lack of a dominant formula gave rise to experimentation. There were various attempts to modernize the vampire myth, sometimes in 'scientific' terms.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Halek - you know I was meant to put the bedroom stalkingbit in.

Good point about the "falling between two stools" as it were but should also add that the dominant form of the sci-fi at the time, and the atomic paranoia, also led to some wonderfully unusual vampire forms.