Film

Don’t Open That Door! #13: '4D Man' (1959)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we enter a new dimension of horror with 4D Man.


Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Cast: Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Robert Strauss, Edgar Stehli
US release date: 1959-10-07

Alternative titles: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

POSITIVES:

Interesting premise, intelligently handled.

Good performances keep you watching, without gimmicks.

Cool (though sparingly used) walking-through-the-wall special effects.

NEGATIVES:

Not exactly a "creature" here—some might argue it shouldn't be included in this column.

A bit more soap opera than is wanted or needed.

Annoying be-bop soundtrack is fun at first but gets overused.

SYNOPSIS: Poor Tony Nelson can't catch a break. He burns down his employer's research lab, getting himself fired as a result, and if that's not bad enough, he still can't push a wooden dowel through a block of steel. Talk about jinxed! Fortunately, Tony soon scavenges a job at the lab where his big brother Scott works when he's not busy impersonating Steve McQueen, and before you can say, "Mom always loved you best," Tony starts mooning over Scott's girlfriend Linda—you can tell this is happening because the saxophones keep swelling in the background. Linda's not put off by this attention one tiny bit; in fact she seems to like it just fine. Within about nine minutes the two of them are carrying on like Liz Taylor and Rick Burton. Maybe this is where the trouble actually starts.

Scott decides to get back at his meddling little bro by breaking into Tony's lab and co-opting his clever dowel-through-the-brick-of-steel idea. Only, Scott ups the ante by pushing himself through the metal block along with the pencil. Consequently, sibling rivaly takes on a whole new, um, dimension (sorry) when Scott's molecules are rearranged into something that's able to pass through solids. Like walls, mailboxes, bank vaults—you name it.

Problem is, this kind of carrying on has its price. For Scott, the cost of walking through walls is that a goodly amount of his life force (or lifespan, it's not quite clear) is used up each time. Before long he's looking like something the cat dragged in—in through the wall, no less. Quick-thinking Scott cleverly makes up for this deficit by sucking vital life-force energy from whatever human victim he comes across. And he comes across several... Thus, he is able to evolve from a superhuman four-dimensional scientist into a superhuman four-dimensional life-force-sucking vampire of doom. Nicely done, Scotty!

Naturally, local authorities have strong feelings about life-sucking four-dimensional vampires of doom roaming about their municipality, so the chase is on to shut Scotty down before he shuts down everybody else. Oh and don't forget unscrupulous scientist Roy, who skulks about looking for good ideas to steal and generally complicating problems exponentially. When push comes to shove, so to speak, it takes a brother to catch a brother—but which one will catch which? And what does poor Linda have to do with all of this? Well—quite a lot, actually.

Best line of exasperated brotherly dialogue: "Do I have to put it on a slide and shove it under your microscope? Man!"

Moral of the story: Watch out for your brother. (As if you need to be told.)

What gets sent to another dimension: A nice guy; a not-so-nice old guy; a young woman of questionable virtue; a police officer; an overreaching scientist; quite a few hopes and dreams.

Did you notice? The very first thing that happens in the movie is that a clock tower chimes... four, of course.

Party game: Play "Creepers" and make a list of the first 3 places you would go if you could walk through walls. Award points for originality. Try not to be a pervert.

Somehow their careers survived, or at least mutated into something else: Robert Lansing (Scott)'s career started with this movie and would continue with 1977's Empire of the Ants and many other films. He also guest-starred in the "Assignment: Earth" episode of the original Star Trek. This was also the first movie for Lee Meriwether (Linda), who would go on to glory as Catwoman in 1966's fantastically entertaining Batman—the first and by far the best—co-starring Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, Burgess Merideth as The Penguin and Cesar Romero as The Joker. James Congdon (Tony) had appeared in 1951's epic When Worlds Collide, and would appear in 1975's Seeds of Evil. Robert Strauss (Roy) had lent his faintly sinister looks to such respected films as Stalag 17 (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955) with Marilyn Monroe, and 1955's controversial drug-addiction film The Man with the Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra and directed by Otto Preminger. Patty Duke (Marjorie, the little girl) would enjoy a long career that included 1967's Valley of the Dolls, killer-bee flick The Swarm (1978), and her own TV show.

BOTTOM LINE: Good acting and little gimmickry lifts this above average—well worth a look.

NEXT WEEK: She Demons

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