The 4D Man (1959)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Sci-Fi Horror  |   Release Date - Oct 7, 1959 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

4D Man was the second feature film made by producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth, who had previously given us The Blob. In many respects, it's a better made and more exciting film than The Blob, though not remotely as important or influential as a pop culture artifact. 4D Man is a fine little sci-fi genre film with horror elements, but it doesn't offer anything as tantalizing as The Blob's unexpected genre-bending elements of teen exploitation and rock & roll. The movie was actually written with Steve McQueen in mind as the star; when he signed the contract to star in The Blob in 1957, the actor had agreed to do a second film for Harris, and the producer had hoped to use him in 4D Man. But by 1959, McQueen's career was on its way and he was out of Harris' reach; and it is difficult to say, watching the movie, whether McQueen would have been better suited to the role of Scott, the serious but stricken scientist, or Tony, the rebel genius. In any case, Harris got Robert Lansing, then an up-and-coming New York actor, to play Scott; James Congdon to portray Tony; and Lee Meriwether, who was just starting an acting career after a stint as Miss America, to play Linda. The other talent, mostly New York-based, included Robert Strauss, Edgar Stehli, and a young Patty Duke. Also aboard are some of the same actors from the Hedgerow Theater company in Pennsylvania who had worked in The Blob, including George Karas and John Benson, and the Hedgerow company's legendary founder, Jasper Deeter (in a bigger role than he had in The Blob). The movie plays like an updated version of a vampire tale, Scott's killing of people by the draining of their life force being the science-fiction equivalent of drinking their blood, though he doesn't create others like himself in the process. Additionally, the central conflict between the two brothers is both believable and well-played -- audiences could resonate to this movie beyond its shocks and thrills -- and Meriwether looks good enough to be convincing as a source of contention between them, though her acting skills were still limited. The special effects are surprisingly well-done given the low budget that the producers had to work with -- Bart Sloane, who had done a good job on The Blob for very little money, does a superb job here of making Lansing's passages through walls, plate-glass windows, vault doors, nuclear shielding, and people all look convincing, and Dean Newman's makeup work, on Lansing and his victims, is first-rate; it's almost an "in" joke that Newman also plays Brian Schwartz, the first of Lansing's victims, thus applying to himself the makeup depicting his character's sudden, rapid aging to death. The movie has held up very well in its genre across more than 40 years, if not quite so well as The Blob, and is well-worth a fresh look.