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4D Man Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 March 2000

4D Man

Image Entertainment
starring: Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Robert Strauss, Edgar Stehli, Patty Duke
release year: 1959
film rating: Three and a Half Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

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 paint.

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 well.

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.

more details
sound format:
Dolby digital
special features: Scene Selections
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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