4D Man

The Blob’s hip older brother!
★★★
☆
Released: 
1959
Director: 
Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Starring: 
Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Robert Strauss
The Setup: 
After a lot of interfamilial drama, a man can pass through solid objects.
Discussion: 

I don’t think I’d even heard of this movie, but I needed things to watch on my plane ride to see my parents and there it was for only 99 cents on iTunes. Then a little research revealed it to be a later movie by the same team that made the 50s The Blob, and was about a man who could pass through solid objects [what, that doesn’t fill you with frenzied excitement?], so what the hell, I can watch that on an airplane.

We start out well with hip beatnik-style jazz music over the universal logo and credits, which come on in time to the music. It’s a swingin’ affair! We then join handsome aspiring scientist Tony Nelson, trying to shove a pencil through a solid block of metal. Then the office arbitrarily starts on fire! Then the whole building burns down! And Tony’s boss is annoyed, especially since Tony wasn’t supposed to be there working on his secret project anyway! So Tony says “Huh. Maybe I’ll go visit my older brother, Scott.”

Scott is another handsome scientist who is thinking of proposing to his lovely assistant, Linda. Only it looks like Linda’s got a wandering eye—for Tony! And even though his big bro is doing him a huge favor by taking him in after fucking up yet again, he sees nothing wrong with putting the moves on Linda. She resists—for now.

Stuff goes on like this for a while, while we introduce some new characters: There’s Roy, another assistant at the lab, who is unattractive and therefore must either be a “good buddy” or an “unscrupulous rival.” There’s also Mr. Cargon, who owns the company, and takes credit for everything that is discovered there, like some new compound they name “Cargonite” after him. Or Corgonite—can’t really tell with their pronunciation. Later I believe someone refers to him as Mr. Carson.

Soon Tony is frustrated by the situation, what with the restrictions of the lab—and Linda’s blouse!—and says he’s going to take to his old home, the road. But abruptly Linda is in love with him, and says she’s “his girl.” Hmmm, doesn’t say much for either of them, if you ask me, but Linda receives no criticism from the movie’s viewpoint and Tony is the hero. Besides, Tony has stolen Scott’s girls before! Looks like poor old dumb sad-sack better not be so quick to offer his lil bro a place to stay! This is all taking place against somewhat to very amusingly incongruous hip jazz music.

Scott hears from a doctor that he has unusually strong brain impulses. That’s probably why he’s such a whiz at Sudoku! Anyway, dang it, it’s time to COMMIT, and he runs over to where Linda is babysitting—despite being like 27 and having a solid career—and proposes! Well, she just can’t say yes, and tells Scott that it just wasn’t meant to be. Like all good mad scientists, Scott goes straight to the lab to experiment on himself!

He’s working on the equipment Tony’s been messing with—if you can’t mess with the girl, may as well fiddle with the equipment—and finds his whole hand suddenly embedded in a solid block of metal! And, why who should come along just then but Roy, who absconds with Tony’s notes while Scott hides his hand, still encased in metal. He gets it out once Roy leaves—but at what cost to his brain impulses?

SPOILERS > > >
Scott finally gets his hand out, while Roy goes to Cargan, claiming Tony’s discovery as his own. Meanwhile Scott calls Tony and tells him of his amazing discovery, calls him to the lab, and demonstrates how easy it is to pass through solid objects with the help of the amplifier. But it isn’t even turned on, Tony says! Scott can do it all by himself now! “Someone told me recently that my brain waves acted differently than most people’s,” Scott says. Oh really, someone told you? Just some random guy on the street? Scott and Tony are on their way home when Scott decides maybe he’d rather take a walk and, who knows, maybe a little mini-rampage. Just for kicks.

Scott reaches right into a mailbox and pulls out a letter—so THAT’S where all those missing Netflix discs go! He then moves on to a jewelry store and reaches right through the glass to pull out a diamond necklace. Please ignore the fact that his suit sleeve and the necklace also pass unhindered through the glass… I guess we’re supposed to know that anything he touches also takes on his 4-D qualities? Let’s also not think about why Scott then doesn’t fall right to the center of the Earth, or can sit on a chair or lie on a bed. Oh, and one other thing, Scott’s starting to look a little ragged around the edges, and it seems that the slightest love tap to his bros causes them to suddenly advance in years and die of old age in seconds, leaving Scott with skin that is supple and wrinkle-free. Scott ends up putting the necklace back, but the bank vault he passes next is not quite so lucky.

The next day Tony wakes to find his brother missing and a headline about $50,000 missing from the bank. Oh, and a 90-year-old corpse where a young, vital doctor used to be. He quickly surmises that it’s his big bro. Here’s how it works: Scott is now extended forward in TIME [hence the 4-D], and by touching someone, he advances them decades in age, while he absorbs their youth and vitality. It also allows him to pass through objects, for some reason that also makes perfect scientific sense. No, don’t question it, because it all makes PERFECT SCIENTIFIC SENSE.

Scott starts to warm up to this whole 4-D thing and hides Tony’s machine, so that no one can be 4-D but him. He then decides it’s payback time, and pays Cargon a visit at home. There’s a tiny bit of amusement as Cargon asks “How did you get in?” and Scott replies “Through the door.” Arr, arr, get it? THROUGH the door? Then he hops over to Linda’s house, where he freaks her out but doesn’t get to give her the touch of death, which would have been fun. How do you think Tony would like her as a 90-year-old? Through probably it’s Tony himself who could use a little 4-D comeuppance.

Tony finds the missing cash and goes to the police, telling them the simple fact that his brother is in the fourth dimension, and that “a man in the fourth dimension is indestructible!”

Well, by now Scott is running out of fun things to do—you think it’s going to be a blast in the fourth dimension, but the truth is it gets boring right quick—and that advanced age problem is getting to be a nuisance. He picks up a floozy in a bar, and ends up giving her the kiss of death. The next morning he wakes in some bushes, with a kindly young girl asking “Are you a hobo?” Scott replies “No, I like girls. Oh, you said HoBO.”

So Tony, showing some small shred of responsibility at last, decides he must make another of the doohikey that did it to Scott in the first place and make himself 4-D in order to stop him, although theoretically that would leave him with the same problems Scott has. He sets about making a new doohickey, when who should come right in but Scott himself! He looks up and sees Tony and Linda trying to stop him, then Tony runs off, leaving Linda all alone! And this is our HERO. Scott comes in and wants a little kissie-poo, but Linda ain’t havin’ it and shoots the bastard! He shouts “You can’t hurt me! Nothing can hurt me!” But is he talking about his body—or his EMOTIONS? That little shit Tony shows up just in time to see Scott stumbling back into a wall, and the words “the end” followed a second later, by a question mark.
< < < SPOILERS END

I enjoyed it slightly more than The Blob, but that may be just because The Blob comes loaded with expectations of being a classic, whereas for this I had none. It’s just kind of fun in a silly way, and there’s all the additional emotional trauma [and subtext] to liven things up. Plus it’s just kind of a fun idea, being able to pass through things, and the whole thing of making people old and sucking up their life energy is kind of fun, too. And I enjoyed the fun jazzy score, although several people on the IMDb found it irritating.

I found two things quite curious: first, that the love triangle was so prominent, yet conflict-free, and two, that it seemed to have no real impact on the rest of the story, and these point to only one thing: SUBTEXT. Okay, so Tony is handsome but shiftless, passes from job to job, and from woman to woman—and has stolen Scott’s girlfriends before. He also shows no responsibility to the public—his fire could have killed a number of innocent people. He is working on a silly dream project, trying to pass matter through solid matter, that will probably never go anywhere. On the other hand, his older brother Scott is less handsome, much more responsible, and quite a bit more boring. He has a steady girlfriend [though perhaps less steady than he thinks], and is a bit of a sad-sack who sits back and won’t defend himself when Cargon appropriates his invention, or Tony steals his girl. Now, Tony is trying to pass THROUGH something, while his brother Scott has created an incredibly hard, dense material. What brought my attention to all this was, when Tony is quitting, he says “Cargonite cannot be penetrated!” Which makes one think of the switcheroo in girlfriends, with Tony’s ability to penetrate, in a sexual sense, and Scott’s inability. Amazingly, what Tony and Scott both try to penetrate the metal with is a pencil, recalling the phrase about whether a man has “lead in his pencil.” Anyway, over the course of the movie, Scott uses TONY’S invention, through which he absorbs his brother’s ability to penetrate, but also his lust and also social irresponsibility. Through this happening, Tony is forced to accept some moral and social responsibility, offering to make a new machine to use on himself [which would apparently also doom him to premature aging] in order to stop his brother. I’m sure there’s more [like where does Linda fit in? The movie has NOTHING to say about her infidelity?], but this is all that’s occurred to me so far.

Director Irwin S. Yeaworth, Jr. also directed, aside from The Blob, Dinosaurs! and something called The Flaming Teen-Age, which I can’t help but imagine being about a flamboyant young gay man and called The Flaming Teen-Ager. Robert Lansing, who plays Scott, was Mister Seven in the original Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, and also played Dan the reluctant boat driver in Empire of the Ants. Lee Meriwether still acts to this day, and was also in an original Star Trek episode, That Which Survives, as well as in The Time Tunnel, Mission: Impossible, Barnaby Jones, played Lily Munster in The Munsters Today and did a short stint as Catwoman. James Congdon, Tony, never ended up doing much of anything remarkable. And I saved the best for last: That little girl who asks Scott if he’s a homo is… PATTY DUKE!

All in all, I found this generally more entertaining than The Blob, but again, that may be because I had no expectations, whereas The Blob comes with some pretty hefty ones. If you’re a big fan of The Blob or 50s monster movies in general, you could do worse than to watch this. If it’s not your thing, skip it and life in the security that it is unlikely to ever come up at any party you might attend.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, if you like that sort of thing.