||Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Robert Strauss, Edgar Stehli, Patty Duke
||Three and a Half Stars
When the original THE BLOB made a ton of money, producer Jack H. Harris
saw the handwriting on the wall, and made another inexpensive but
imaginative science fiction film the next year. Much of the same
creative team worked on 4D MAN, and like THE BLOB, it was filmed far
from Hollywood, in Pennsylvania. And like THE BLOB, it's well above
average for this kind of movie. Screenwriters Theodore Simonson and Cy
Chermak created solid characters, and added a few mildly surprising
turns of plot.
The movie is hampered a little by its budget; the special effects
almost always give themselves away (though there is at least one
stunning shot involving a mailbox that defies analysis), and art
director William Jersey seems to have made a real good buy in blue
But apart from the illogical but fascinating premise and the generally
high standard of the production, the best aspect of 4D MAN is the
intense, convincing and sympathetic performance of Robert Lansing in
his first movie. He's so very good that it remains a mystery why he
never became a bigger star than he did. He starred in a couple of TV
series, and had a good recurring role in "The Equalizer," and was later
on the revival of "Kung Fu." (As "Paul Blaisdell," a name that will
startle 50s science fiction movie fans.) He also starred in some unsold
TV pilots, notably the "Assignment Earth" episode of the original STAR
TREK series. But after the late 1960s, he rarely had the leading role
in a worthwhile movie; for those who respect his acting, this remains
one of the sad minor mysteries of Hollywood.
Daring researcher Tony Nelson (James Congdon) accidentally burns down a
laboratory (and his job), so he visits his older brother Scott
(Lansing), also a researcher. But where Tony is given to great leaps of
genius, defying all around him, Scott is something of a plodder. He's
shackled to Dr. Carson (Edgar Stehli), owner of the company where Scott
works, who takes credit for all of Scott's discoveries. Scott is even
too bashful to propose to Linda Davis (Lee Meriwether), his assistant.
Tony has been desperately trying to recreate an astonishing effect he
produced by accident: he shoved a pencil into a block of steel. It
didn't pierce the steel, it passed through it, like smoke through mesh.
It's true that if left undisturbed for a long, long time, certain
metals can interpenetrate each other -- so Tony apparently sped up this
fusion process, reducing decades to seconds. But he can't do it again.
He can, however, impress the hell out of Linda, who, to Scott's dismay,
gradually falls in love with Tony. Scott is too fond of Tony, and too
timid, to protest. But maybe he can do something with Tony's rig. And
one night, Scott thrusts a rod -- and his own hand -- into a block of
metal. He later demonstrates this to Tony, who notices to his shock
that the equipment designed to create the force field allowing this to
happen isn't even turned on. Scott did it on his own. He can pass
through solid objects.
Of course, with great power comes great drawbacks...
4D MAN is not one of the major science fiction movies of the 1950s,
like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FORBIDDEN PLANET, INVASION OF THE
BODY SNATCHERS, etc., but it's in the surprisingly large number of very
good movies that lie just under that top-of-the-line stratum. It's
especially good in developing the characters; you'd expect bold, daring
Tony to end up as the man who can walk through walls, but instead, it's
dull ol' Scott. And yet the script carefully prepares us for this as
The special effects of Lansing passing through walls, chairs, even
people, are bold and imaginative, but always give themselves away with
a visible matte line. Still, this should not be held against the movie;
they did the best they could, and the story is good enough that it's
easy to overlook and forgive the special effects shortcomings.
The cast is generally above average for this kind of movie. The movie
catches Robert Strauss (as a genial but corrupt scientist) on his way
downhill from the likes of STALAG 17 and THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI to the
depths of DAGMAR'S HOT PANTS, INC. Lee Meriwether, a former Miss
America, gives her usual solid, reliable (if unmemorable) performance,
but James Congdon is a little too emphatic as the dashing Tony. There
are two scenes with a little girl who gives a routine performance; she
did much better later in THE MIRACLE WORKER. It's Patty Duke.
Initially released by Universal-International, producer Harris later
reacquired the rights and re-released it under the pointless and vague
title of MASTER OF HORROR. It's been on television a lot, but not
recently, and even modest fame has eluded the movie. The print on this
DVD looks a bit washed out, but then again, 4D MAN looked that way in
theaters, too. There are no extras, a drawback, but at least this
worthwhile little movie has been preserved on video.
||36-inch Sony XBR