4D Man

Synopsis: Robert Lansing has the title role in this effective thriller as a man to whom locked doors have no meaning – the 4D Man!

Scientific whiz Tony Nelson (James Congdon) has made an amazing discovery. He’s developed a method of stimulating the molecular structure of objects so that they can be joined or passed through one another (i.e. a wooden rod through a solid steel plate). Stumbling upon this incredible secret is Tony’s older brother, Scott (Lansing), a fellow scientist who decides to take the experiment one step further. Soon he is able to pass ‘himself’ through things: doors, walls, etc. But this newfound freedom of movement has unforeseen side effects, for each time the power is used, Scott ages a bit, and only by touching other living beings and draining their energy (thus, taking their lives) can he maintain his age. In addition, this incredible force is driving Scott quite mad..and he’s just noticed his beautiful would-be fiancée (Lee Meriwether) expressing an interest in his brother Tony!

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4D Man 6.5

eyelights: its effective special effects. its cast.
eyesores: its preposterous concept. James Congdon’s performance. its discrepant score.

“Two objects *can* occupy the same space, under the right conditions.”

I had no major expectation when I sat down to watch ‘4D Man’. The only reason I even picked it up is because the title had a WTF quality about it that caught my attention.

4D Man? Really?

So… is that one dimension better than 3D?

Does that mean Smell-O-Vision?

But, seriously, based on the DVD artwork and description, it seemed like a hokey sci-fi b-movie. But I bought it out of curiosity from my local library for a coupla bucks.

Worst case scenario, I’d pass it on to a friend of mine who likes this sort of thing.

It was a fail-safe scenario.

And I proceeded to watch this 1959 motion picture, which it turns out was the follow-up release by Jack H. Harris and Irvin Yeaworth, the duo behind the 1958 hit ‘The Blob’.

This time, instead of a big mass of creeping jelly, they conceived of a scientist who accidentally discovers how to merge disparate materials together on a molecular level.

But, one day, his older brother, also a scientist, has an accident with the contraption.

He becomes the 4D man!

Now the guy can not only bind himself to other matter, he becomes intangible! Though at first he has fun with his new power, he soon discovers its vampiric effect on him.

It’s killing him, and he has to kill to prevent from dying.

Frankly, ‘4D Man’ is nothing like I imagined it would be. Since my first impression was that the fourth dimension was time, I thought that 4D man would travel time.

In all fairness, time does play a part in the sense that somehow he’s using up years of time in seconds. And when he puts his hands on another being, they age decades.

But I didn’t get the science behind it, much like I didn’t understand how using the contraption would make our guy assimilate its power instantly. How did that happen?

Anyway, beyond the unusual premise, ‘4D Man’ is fairly standard fare for the genre: a careless young scientist, a love triangle, a jealous colleague and a dramatic finale.

But it’s slightly incompetent in the storytelling, with some scenes being inexplicable, like when 4D Man wakes up one morning, looks at himself in the mirror and freaks out.

Um… why?

(We later figure it out, but it’s not immediately clear).

And then there’s the jazzy score which would probably be more suited for a Eurospy movie than for a sci-fi suspense picture. Talk about not getting the tone of the material!

At least the special effects were surprisingly effective in showing us Scott’s body moving through objects. It made me think of an early morphing effect à la ‘Terminator 2‘.

For 1959, it’s pretty good, and it left me wondering if it was groundbreaking in some way.

Honestly.

In fact, it nearly makes up for James Congdon’s performance as Tony, the youngest of the two brothers; to say that Congdon was forceful in his delivery might be a politeness.

Plus which he made me think of a Hollywood version of Henry Rollins.

Speaking of which, Scott is played by Robert Lansing, who was like a bargain-basement Steve McQueen – who happened to be playing in Harris and Yeaworth’s ‘The Blob’.

Hmmm… coincidence?

Also look out for Lee Meriwether (one of ‘Batman’s many Catwomen), as Linda, the object of affection of both brothers, and Patty Duke in an early cameo a curious child.

But is that enough to warrant watching this movie? Perhaps if one finds vintage sci-fi appealing, then one might find some redeeming qualities in it. But it’s a stretch.

For the casual movie watcher, however, ‘4D Man’ would likely seem dull and absurd. It’s hardly a hidden gem in the genre: it’s about as credible as 1958’s ‘The Fly’ was.

Minus the latter’s delicious camp quality (“Kill meeeeeee! Kill meeeeeee!”, anyone?).

For good or bad.

Date of viewing: April 30, 3017

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