Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Microreview [film]: 4D Man

Pseudoscience be damned, this is a 50s B-movie worth seeking out



This one's pretty fun.

After the breakout success of The Blob, producer Jack Harris and director Irvin Yeaworth teamed up again the following year for 4D Man. In it, young scientist Tony Nelson is kind of a screw-up, and starts the film by accidentally burning down the whole building his borrowed lab is in while trying to ram a pencil through a block of steel. You know, like you do. Meanwhile, Tony's successful older brother Scott is developing a material even stronger than steel for possible military applications, with the help of scientist Linda Davis (a pre-Batman Lee Meriwether), upon who he's crushing pretty hard. You see where this is all going right?

So now Tony's out of a job, and goes to see his big brother just as Scott perfects his impenetrable metal, which is a huge success for the company he works for. Scott, though, becomes nearly enraged when the head of the company can't even remember his name at the press conference announcing the metal. Poor Scott. Linda's already falling in love with younger, more virile Tony (who's way more into penetrating things), who lets Scott in on his secret ambition to pass one material through another using "amplified brain waves." It's no fun inventing an impenetrable material when your little brother wants to show you can just stick a pencil through it by thinking really hard. But little does anyone know that older brother Scott's brain waves have been permanently altered by his experiments — altered in such a way that allow him to pass through any object using only the power of...his mind! (dun-dun-dun)

There's actually a neat idea at the center of 4D Man, and that idea is change over time, based very, very loosely on the idea of solid-state diffusion. The (totally, totally flawed but, hey, pretty fun!) premise is that given enough time, two objects will sort of melt into each other. In real life, this is true of things like pitch dropping but that may be about all. Nevertheless! Scott discovers that he can pass his body through any material — mailboxes, bank vaults, slutty girls at bars, that kind of thing — but it takes a tremendous temporal toll on him, making him age rapidly. Lucky for him, he also accidentally discovers that by touching other humans — like the aforementioned heavy drinker in a low-cut dress — he can suck the life out of them and replenish his own...it's not clear, exactly. Life force, maybe? What follows is your basic The Invisible Man or The Man With the X-Ray Eyes sort of descent into madness, in which longtime TV actor Robert Lansing does quite a nice job, especially when confronting Lee Meriwether's Dr. Linda Davis.

Stylistically, this movie reminded me a lot of Gog, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 4D Man is less socially aware than that film was, but it does a surprisingly credible job of telling a human story about two brothers who are each a little jealous of the other for different reasons...and the unfortunate and terrible cost of that rivalry when really, really strong brain-waves get involved.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for Lee Meriwether's character being a scientist (a scientist who's maybe a little too eager to help the guys type stuff up, but a female scientist onscreen in the 1950s, nonetheless), +1 for stronger character development and acting than most of its filmic peers

Penalties: -1 for some quite disjointed sequences, like a bizarre cameo from Patty Duke as a little girl who appears to be headed to a Frankenstein-style fate, but then simply disappears from the movie, never to be mentioned again.

Cult Film Coefficient: 7/10, which is actually a little better than you may be thinking.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since before the pitch last dropped.

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