1959 / Color / 1:37 / Single Layer / Dolby Digital mono English
Starring Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Edgar Stehli, Robert Strauss, Guy Raymond, Chic James, Patty Duke
Cinematographer Theodore J. Pahle
Art Direction William Jersey
Makeup Dean Newman
Music Ralph Carmichael
Special Effects Bart Sloane
Written by Theodore Simonson and Cy Chermak
Produced by Jack H. Harris and Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Lowbudget independent filmmaking was a staple of movies in the 50s and 60s,
where new talent got started, studio talent tried their luck outside the system, and oddball
mavericks rolled in from every direction. All sorts of filmmakers were putting together
lowbudget efforts, and although some of the output was obvious trash (often still very
entertaining), the level of achievement wasn't bad at all: for every Ed Wood there were
expressive artists like Ray Ashley, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin (Little Fugitive),
John Parker (
), and Herk Harvey (Carnival of Souls). Engel, Morris
and Orkin were New York photographers with talent and ambitions. Harvey was an
industrial filmmaker with a hankering for features; Parker may have been a Venice,
California experimental filmmaker, or just a nom de film for Bruno Ve Soto,
In 1958 producer Jack H. Harris become notable by selling his
Science Fiction horror movie The Blob to a big studio, Paramount, for a terrific
profit. '57 and '58 had seen a glut of monster movies of ever-decreasing
quality and Paramount must have been rolling the dice in hopes of a socko hit like Godzilla,
The Curse of Frankenstein
, overseas acquisitions that had cleaned up for
Joseph E. Levine and Warners. When The Blob became a success, it joined the ranks
of other relatively cheap films that earned outsized profits: Rodan, another
Japanese pickup, and The Fly, a homegrown horror shot with big stars in
CinemaScope and Stereophonic Sound. With all kinds of esoteric product heralded
nowadays in nostalgic articles, we sometimes forget which films were the biggies.
Harris had done something unusual with The Blob; he stumbled across some rural
Pennsylvanian religious filmmakers who were turning out quality 35mm inspirational
short subjects from the makeshift Valley Forge Studios. Their leader was a minister named
Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., an idealistic and charismatic man committed to spreading
his beliefs via film, and his dedicated religous moviemakers had persevered
through all kinds of deprivations. Harris liked Yeaworth and at Valley Forge saw the
makings of his own little empire: here was the opportunity to turn out commercial color features
at a fraction of what it would take in Hollywood or New York. 6
Everyone knows about the success of The Blob, with Steve(n) McQueen. Whatever
symbiosis Harris and Yeaworth had formed, it functioned, because they worked together
twice more, on two very unique, if less successful followups to the monster that "leaps,
and creeps, and slides, and glides across the floor ": 4D Man, and Dinosaurus!
4D Man is the more interesting of the two .... it's a very effective cross between literary
science fiction and the standard Universal-type horror film of decades past. Screenwriter
Theodore Simonson had written The Blob; his credited co-writer Cy Chermak later
became a noted television writer and producer. Their 4D Man screenplay is a
dandy little construct of nicely-orchestrated themes and characters, and worthy of close study.
Brothers Scott and Tony Nelson are scientists with very different personalities.
Scott (Robert Lansing), underpaid head researcher at Carson Laboratories, is a humorless
workaholic who shrugs off the fact that his achievements are being usurped by his boss, Dr.
Theodore Carson (Edgar Stehli). His girlfriend Linda (Lee Meriwether) urges Scott to assert
himself, but he stubbornly adheres to a defeatist posture, grudgingly resigned to his lack
of public acknowledgment.
Younger brother Tony (James Congdon) is Scott's positively-charged opposite. Tony also has
brilliant scientific ideas, but has made himself unemployable by irresponsibly breaking
rules. He shows up on Scott's doorstep, fresh from recklessly burning down a college
lab. Soon Tony is set up in a lab of his own, but his enthusiasm only makes Scott
more bitter and withdrawn. Even worse, Linda is immediately attracted to Tony's
Scott's newest invention is Cargonite, a metal with an atomic structure so dense,
Dr. Carson has publicized it as being totally impregnable. Tony's unproven theory
posits an electrical field that would allow solid objects to pass through one another.
Since all matter is made of infinitesimal particles whirling in mostly empty space,
Tony believes that one object can penetrate another without ever touching, like
galaxies that pass through one another without a single star colliding.
Scott has been suffering from migraines; his EEG readings are off the scale and he worries
that his exposure to radiation may be affecting his brain.
When he loses Linda's affections as well, Scott flips out and hijacks his brother's experiment,
with outrageous results. Tony's electrical field (perhaps) transforms Scott into a living 4D object that
can penetrate anything at will, giving him the godlike ability to reach into locked
safes, and walk through furniture and walls. Unfortunately, for every second he's in 4D,
Scott consumes years of his 'lifeforce', aging into a white-haired, wrinkled old man in
minutes. The only way to save himself is to steal the lifeforce
of others. This happens with a simple touch - Scott reaches 'into' his best friend Fred
(Guy Raymond) and the man drops dead, becoming unrecognizably whithered and gray,
while Scott is partially rejuvenated. As the bizarre murders stack up, Tony and Linda
have to find some way to stop the deranged Scott, who has become a fourth-dimensional
vampire, invulnerable while in 4D. When Scott discovers his brother and sweetheart are
plotting against him, no walls can keep them safe from Scott's killing touch.
Like many lowbudget genre films, the lack of sophistication in 4D Man's production makes its
interesting ideas stand out all the more strongly. The setup is schematic but compelling: the
stodgy, passive Scott develops a defensive,
impenetrable metal, and the dynamic, active Tony invents an irresistable force that pierces
without destruction. The film's theme music should be the pop song "Something's Gotta Give."
When Scott goes haywire and jealously steals his brother's invention, he breaks the
mechanism of his own personality ... and spins out of control into megalomanic excess.
He becomes a consumer version of James Mason's intellectually liberated maniac in
Bigger Than Life. Like the drugs that released Mason's repressed ego, the Fourth Dimension
releases Scott Nelson's desires for sex, riches and power. In a consumer credit nightmare,
Scott must kill repeatedly to replenish his youth ... but to do that he has to keep
entering the 4D state, wasting priceless lifeforce in a Catch-22 cycle. Like a drug addict,
Scott becomes a criminal just to stay alive. He loses control over everything, even his newfound
abilities: his emotions cause him to enter 4D involuntarily. His power is miraculous, but
he's simultaneously a pathetic misfit. It's The Curse of the Werewolf crossed with The
The original pattern for much of this is in H.G. Wells' The Invisble Man, whose fantastic
invisibility brings forth a deranged desire to dominate, a trait which became so universal a
mad doctor cliche, it probably does represent a basic human truth: As far as technological hubris is
concerned, (to jump in with more song lyrics) it seems "... Ev' ry body wants to rule the world."
Most stories of this kind establish a jumping-off premise and then devolve into repetitious
murders.1 Like a Chinese Box puzzle,
4D Man follows through with neatly-turned complications inseparable from its
characters. The emotionally scattered Tony cannot make his tabletop forcefield
function - but when the disciplined Scott concentrates his souped-up, jealous brainwaves
on the equation, what he can do seems limitless. Tony wants to follow his brother into
the 4th Dimension but cannot: he's brilliant, but his brain just isn't as 'together' as his brother's.
Villainous Roy Parker's (Robert Strauss) is an exaggeration of the brothers' faults: twofaced like
Tony, and covetous of all the things Scott wants, including Linda.
4D Man's form suggests that Scott succeeds where Tony failed because his source of
power is Pure Angst. Great achievers accomplish their feats through force of will, both
liberated and limited by the horizons of their own personalities. Since Scott's 4D existence
is an unsustainable paradox, it is fitting that his godlike powers be neutralized by the
collision of the two halves of his split personality: When the sexually charged 4D power
stolen from Tony ("... When an irresistable force, such as you...") plunges back into the
'impenetrable' Cargonite that represents Scott's life-negating sterility
("... meets an old unmoveable object like me .."), the issue is resolved. Like Cronenberg's
BrundleFly, Scott becomes one with his creation. 'What you worship is what you become,' just
as Lot's wife becomes a dead pillar of salt in Sodom and Gomorrah, or Diabolik
becomes a 'dead' statue of gold.
4D Man is a model of symmetry, but is by no means a classic. Most independent lowbudget
productions are put together like puzzles with missing pieces. Artistic compromises come
from a lack of resources, and everyone seems to have a different set of puzzle pieces.
Dementia and Little Fugitive couldn't afford synch sound, but compensated with
good acting and original approaches to their material. Carnival of Souls had sync sound
but a stiff script and some amateurish actors, and made up the slack through style alone.
4D Man both benefits and suffers from the puzzle pieces assembled by Jack Harris and
Irvin Yeaworth. Yeaworth's direction is unsteady; some of the blocking results in odd eyelines, (Meriwether
somehow ends up looking crosseyed in her first glamour closeup!) and
there are as many static scenes as there are dynamic ones. But the non-Hollywood effort is
refreshing in its lack of slickness. Naive, yes; awkward, yes ... but also honest
and sincere. It's exactly the kind of film that would be a hoot on MSTK3000, and doesn't deserve
The basic production values are quite good. Technically, the little Valley Forge Film
is studio-quality. The photography is glossy, even if the art direction is a bit
The sound is a few notches below A-Plus work but is generally well recorded.
The special effects range
from good to mediocre but are always imaginative and effective. Far more ambitious than
Bart Sloane's previous blobby tricks, 4D Man takes on complicated opticals
combining travelling mattes and animation to make Robert Lansing walk through walls, best
done before in Michael Powell's Technicolor A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway
to Heaven). The shots are fairly grainy, with that bane of low-budget effects
work, erratic matte lines. Yet all the 4D sequences, even the ones that seem to be
avoiding effects, are successful because the excitement of the story carries them through.
The best special effect moments use effortless low-tech solutions. Stealing an apple, Scott penetrates
a storefront window, its glass represented by only a projected line of white light that
touches his arm as he reaches through. Another shot with a mailbox is a clever puzzle
that shows Scott's hand penetrating the box without matte lines. Savant could be wrong,
but it looks as if the box had no front panel at all, with the only matted item being
the little mail pickup schedule on the front!
Of special merit is Dean Newman's ambitious makeup for Robert Lansing's various states
of decrepitude. In the last scene, where it can best be studied, it appears to be
the cotton-build up kind of job Jack Pierce did for Karloff in The Mummy. Lansing's face
wrinkes and furrows while he performs ... It's really a fine makeup job, and superior to the
stiff 'melted candle' look later applauded in Little Big Man.
The film's illusions are also 'sold' by a trilling Musical Sound Effect
heard whenever Scott enters his
4D state. The sound is often used alone, as when Scott breaks into Linda's
boudoir Caligari-style and threatens to rape (kill?) her. Linda runs like blazes for
the door, only to find Scott waiting on her front porch, imitating Tex Avery's unshakeable Droopy
Dog. Not an effect in sight, yet very effective. Savant's favorite 4D Man image: Scott
Nelson reaching into a nuclear reactor, arms outstretched at a blinding blast of fissionable
material as it, uh, fissionates. It sums up a lot of 50s attitudes toward nuclear power, and
human foolishness while playing with it...5
Of course, the actors sell these scenes better than any effects can. When Scott walks
through Dr. Carson's sofa ("How did you get in?"), the mattes are none too convincing.
Robert Lansing's casual air, hands in his pockets, mumbling, gives the moment its kick:
"Through the door..."
Harris and Yeaworth had snared exciting and promising New York actors for The Blob. Along
with McQueen came the charming Aneta Corseaut (credited as Corsaut) whose Kathy O'Donnell-like sweetness
probably appealed to director Yeaworth's interest in gentle human values. For 4D Man
the producers found a powerhouse of method talent in the underrated Robert
Lansing, who seems to have been chosen for his resemblance to Steve McQueen. In Lee Meriwether
they found a female lead who could transcend the typical simpering sci-fi girlfriend role. Her
'betrayal' scene is particularly good. 4D Man was a first feature for both of them,
he of later Twelve O'Clock High TV fame (where he was ironically discarded, Scott
Nelson - like, for the more 'exciting, youthful' Paul Burke) and she with the unfortunate
destiny of becoming Catwoman for the theatrical version of TV's Batman, mewing
in the shadow of the more va-voom Julie Newmar. As Tony, James Congdon isn't bad but he's still
the weak link, especially when delivering 4D Man's occasional clunker dialogue.
Starting in a bit role in When Worlds Collide, Congdon has force but comes off
as stagebound; even in the act-o-rama of the later The Group, he seems to be overacting.
The comic Robert Strauss, for 1959 audiences, was inseparable from his loutish goofball
characters in Stalag 17 and The Seven Year Itch, and with Mickey Rooney in
The Atomic Kid and Bridges at
Toko-Ri, so he gets some unintentional laughs. Finally, there's little Patty Duke, in
a bit as Marjorie Sutherland, the Little Girl Who Meets A Monster. Karloff's
playmate took the plunge in Frankenstein, and Richard Wordsworth's tea-time girl in The Quatermass
Xperiment got off with just a smashed doll, but Scott's encounter with Marjorie is curiously
underdirected. It's written as "she dies" but the scene ends without emphasis. Whether or not Scott
Nelson gives little Marjorie a one-way ticket to the old folk's home, remains unclear.
The least-loved puzzle piece in 4D Man is Ralph Carmichael's overstated Jazz
score, which builds to nice moments but is an unwelcome presence most
of the time. The Variety review of October 7, 1959 wasn't kind to it either, saying
that the trend of Jazz scores for film was burning out. The best thing about the blaring
music is the way it backs off at crucial moments to let suspenseful silence take over, or
to allow the above-mentioned shimmering Musical Sound Effect to do its stuff. Hey, classic
Hammer films are carpeted wall-to-wall with wonderfully overemphatic music ... but not
4D Man's premise was the source of many a playground argument: When Scott enters 4D, does he
retain his mass? Does gravity still affect him? If not, why doesn't he float up off the floor? If he
still has weight, why doesn't he immediately fall to the center of the earth? Ah, the great
debates of the third grade. The kid with the goriest explanation invariably won.
Image's DVD is a satisfactory no-frills affair. Simple chapter menus and colorful box art
are about all it can boast. The film itself is clear and colorful, if not as sharp as
new releases. (Note, 11.03.02: I've since seen transfers on cable television that are far superior)
The transfer element seems to be 35mm, and overall the show is intact and
undamaged. The audio mix seems more compressed than on television, with the music
fighting the dialog in a couple of scenes a tad more than usual. The 1:37 ratio is full-frame
and rather loose; cropping the image on a widescreen TV restores the compositions to their
theatrical tautness. 16:9 formatting would have been nice, but such luxuries are rare for
movies like 4D Man, aren't they?
Image Entertainment's new DVD of 4D Man is a nifty thrill: a suspenseful science fiction story that
has the classic form of a 30s Universal horror film. Robert Lansing's Scott Nelson is an original
character, a post-modern Dr. Jekyll who wants only love and a little recognition, but ends up a
monster. Even with its rough edges and lowbudget origins, it is more satisfying than many a modern cyberthriller.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, 4D Man rates:
Movie: Good, (and for Science Fiction addicts, Excellent)
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: March 14, 2000. Street Date: March 14, 2000
1 The 1936 The Invisible Ray is
perhaps the first of the sub-genre of a man transformed by science into a
monster, whose touch kills: The Man Made Monster and the little-seen The Hand of Death
are other examples. The vampiric idea of Scott Nelson needing to replenish his
lifeforce is a new wrinkle, however, a graft from the Dorian Gray variants, where men
steal glands to prolong life: The Man in Half Moon Street, The Man Who Could
Cheat Death, The Leech Woman. Quantifying this lifeforce is an
interesting thought: Does Scott get the same boost from Dr. Carson as he
does from the little girl? Or does the younger victim have 'more' lifeforce
to give? The concept folded back upon itself in the bookThe Space Vampires,
which ended up being made by Tobe Hooper as, whattaya know, Lifeforce.
2 Variety reviewer
"Powe." specifically points out
the overuse of the color blue in 4D Man. For all we know, Yeaworth's Valley Forge
Studio may have been given the paint as a religous donation, and had to use what was
available! Or were the Universal release prints simply timed too far to the cold end of the
spectrum? Whatever the answer, it's pretty clear that blue-screen techniques weren't used to
achieve the special effects! (they require no blues in the elements to be matted)
3 Many older sound jobs, on
even big films, are pretty crude by today's
audio standards. One typical flaw that anyone can hear is the popping in and out of presences for dialogue
lines recorded on less-than-silent locations: a definite hiss accompanies the dialog line but disappears
as soon as the actor closes his mouth. The Wonderful Country is one of the most beautiful color
films Savant has ever seen, but even in a theater its audio track is pretty disruptive. This isn't
restricted to low budgeters ... listen to the barn scene in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's
Secret Service and you'll hear the same problem in the dialogue between George Lazenby and Diana Rigg.
4 The trilling,
oscillating musical / sound effect heard whenever
Scott Nelson enters his 4D state is another of those wonderful science fiction signature 'noises' from the 50s.
Starting with the theremin used to indicate the presence of the Xenomorphs in
It Came from Outer Space, other prime examples are the
eerie chirping of
Them!, and the sizzling crackle that accompanies
appearances by Tarantula! Not enough is said about the meaning of these sounds, which rekindle nostalgic
memories of seeing these films for the first time, even after repeated viewings. The Japanese seemed to have
picked up on this; starting with Gojira,they invented distinctive 'signature sounds' for all of
their kaiju eiga.
5 The vision of
Scott Nelson directly bombarded in an atomic oven
also connects with the demise / creation of the Doctor Manhattan character in the eclectic comic book
6 Apparently John Parker's
Dementia became the
property of Jack H. Harris, as it shows up as the 'movie within a movie' in The Blob. Perhaps Harris
was the one responsible for releasing it as Daughter of Horror, adding the infamous, wonderfully
creepy Ed MacMahon narration : "YES, it is I, the DEMON who possessess your SOUL..." Harris wagered that
to make any money he'd have to emulate the big boys, with good actors and color, and with Yeaworth's help
his gamble paid off bigtime. It didn't work out that way very often, as with Robert Clarke's The Hideous
Sun Demon and Beyond the Time Barrier. American International's Sam Arkoff was always waiting
to pick the bones of producers with unsold features.
Like SCIENCE FICTION? Try the following SAVANT
Review: DESTINATION MOON,
Review: IT HAPPENED HERE,
The Ultimate INVADERS FROM MARS,
METROPOLIS and STAR WARS,
DUNE and David Lynch,
The Uncut THINGS TO COME,
THE ANGRY RED PLANET and CineMagic,
Jump Cut 1 - FORBIDDEN PLANET,
An Exotic Treat - THE MYSTERIANS!,
Those ASTRAL COLLISION Movies,
Quatermass and the Pit,
The Strange Case of UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson