Derek Winnert

The Fly **** (1958, David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall) – Classic Movie Review 193

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‘Help me!’ ‘Help me!’

Kurt Neumann’s original 1958 horror classic stars David ‘Al’ Hedison as André Delambre, the scientist who dangerously messes with the unknown when he invents a matter transporter that he calls a ‘disintegrater integrater’.

The new system isn’t perfect. It works OK with inanimate objects but when he tries to teleport the cat, it simply vanishes. However, when he thinks he’s sorted out all the teething problems, it’s time to try it himself. But there’s a fly in the ointment. One gets into the transporter with him.

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Unfortunately, that’s when he gets his genes crossed with a house fly in his self-transference experiment and he turns himself accidentally into the hideous title monster. He tries but fails to reverse the experiment and agonisingly begs his wife to kill him to put him out of his misery.

His wife Helene tells the story in flashback to his brother and the police after Delambre is found crushed to death in a heavy mechanical machine press and she calls them to say she’s murdered her hubby. The brother tricks the distraught woman into telling the story.

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Sadly, the movie seems pretty tacky and cheesy now, and not really the 50s horror masterpiece of its reputation. It’s being sold on DVD in an All Time Greats collection!

But engaging acting, a reasonable production with amusingly quaint special effects and a haunting, creepy central idea keep it still buzzing along nicely. And Karl Struss’s widescreen, DeLuxe colour cinematography and Lyle R Wheeler crafty set designs are useful assets. But it shows that Wheeler is working on a tiny budget. The key lab set cost only $28,000, but he gussied it up a bit with some likely looking army surplus equipment and a computer borrowed from another movie, Tracy and Hepburn’s Desk Set (1956).

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It’s disappointing that the film studios looked down on horror and sci-fi movies and had no faith in them, so they wouldn’t spend the money on them that they needed, especially when, like this one, they went on to be huge box-office smashes.

It’s a shame that time hasn’t really been all that kind to The Fly, along with many of the much-admired fantasy movies of the era. It’s all a bit of a worry that a horror film is charming rather than scary. Nevertheless, it’s still highly watchable and very endearing, and really good fun if you get into the spirit of it.

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When the idea, story (by George Langelaan) and themes are so good, it’s a pity that the script is so weak, with some poor development and terrible dialogue, despite boasting a screenplay by the admirable James Clavell (King Rat, Shogun).

The film is an interesting key example of the technofear movie, giving a dire warning of what will go wrong if man tampers with the natural order. ‘Don’t mess with nature,’ it screams its message.

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Hedison is a bit bland but fine as the hero. Adding some quirky screen presence and gravitas, horror icon Vincent Price plays the scientist’s brother François and Patricia Owens plays his wife, Helene, while Herbert Marshall is police Inspector Caras. It’s one of the movies that turned Price into a horror icon in the first place when his ‘posh’ career was waning.

Two sequels (Return and Curse of the Fly) and then David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake and its sequel The Fly II followed. In 1986, the 20th Century Fox studio cashed in on the release of their remake and released this too for a new generation. Now the remake is a venerable antique too.

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Langelaan’s story first appeared in Playboy magazine in June 1957, when they included stuff that wasn’t porn to make it seem ‘respectable’.

Michael Rennie turned down the lead role, as you can’t see the star’s head most of the movie.

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Neumann didn’t live to enjoy his success. He died a week before it went on release, though he did live to attend the premiere.

Price and Marshall giggled a lot on set at the animatronic fly.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 103

Check out more reviews on http://derekwinnert.com

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