The Fly (1958)

Director: Kurt Neumann
Screenplay: James Clavell (based on a story by George Langelaan)
Stars: Al Hedison (Andre Delambre), Patricia Owens (Helene Delambre), Vincent Price (François Delambre), Herbert Marshall (Inspector Charas), Kathleen Freeman (Emma), Betty Lou Gerson (Nurse Andersone), Charles Herbert (Philippe)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1958
Country: U.S.
The Fly DVD
Help me!!!Over the years, The Fly has become a camp classic among old movie enthusiasts. Although written and filmed as a straightforward sci-fi parable about the dangers of tampering with nature, it is so ludicrous, so positively over the top that it simply cannot be taken seriously.

The film opens with a mystery. A night watchman at an industrial plant catches a glimpse of an attractive woman running from a hydraulic steel press that she has apparently used to crush the head of a man (the sight of bright red blood running down the side of the press in full CinemaScope glory must have shocked a few unexpecting viewers in 1958). The woman, Helene (Patricia Owens), later confesses that she did turn on the press and crush the man's head, and that the man was her husband, Andre (Al Hedison). She admits that she killed him, but she will not use the term “murder.”

After refusing repeatedly to explain to a police investigator (Herbert Marshall) why she killed her husband, Helene is finally convinced by her brother-in-law, François (Vincent Price), to spill the beans. By this time, almost 30 minutes of the film has passed, so a great deal of expectation has been built up once Helene begins to spin her story. And what a story it is.

It turns out that Andre was a brilliant scientist who had secretly invented a machine that can disintegrate matter, carry it through a wire, and then reintegrate it somewhere else. (It is obvious that the film was made closely after the widespread phenomenon of the television because Andre explains the disintegrator/reintegrator machine in terms of a TV signal. After all, if a TV camera can send electrons across wires that become sound and picture on a TV set, why couldn't it be done with solid objects?)

While testing the machine on himself, a housefly joined him for the ride and their atoms were switched up, leaving Andre with an oversized, globular fly's head and one hairy fly arm, while somewhere out there is a fly with Andre's miniature head and arm. The rest of the movie chronicles Helene's attempt to catch the fly with Andre's head, in the desperate hope that they might re-enter the teleportation machine and switch their atoms back.

Meanwhile, having a fly's head begins to get to Andre, as he slowly goes insane. Of course, it's never really explained why he would have the fly's head but not its brain, although apparently part of its brain got mixed in there because he finds it harder and harder to think straight and control the fly arm. In the details, the script is incredibly sloppy, but it pushes forward with an irresistible energy that steamrolls past the inconsistencies and gaps in logic.

No matter how you slice it, The Fly is a supremely bizarre movie, even by '50s B-movie standards. With the exception of Andre's hokey science lab, which consists mostly of giant machines with oven timers and a lot of neon tubes that glow blue and green, the movie has a slick polish that makes it look more expensive than it probably was. The acting is all up to par, even though some of the melodramatic scenes between Andre (his fly head hidden behind an Elephant Man-like black hood) and Helene are a bit overdone. The debonair presence of the eminently watchable screen veteran Vincent Price gives the movie an added flair, as well.

Director Kurt Neumann, who died shortly after the film was completed, was something of a B-movie auteur, having already helmed more than 60 mostly low-budget films, including four Tarzan flicks. Despite his vast experience in movies, Neumann is not much more than a functional director with little imagination. The movie features at least a dozen teleportation sequences, yet he stages each one exactly the same, right down to the repetitious camera angels.

Yet, the movie still works, but not quite as it was intended, though. The screenplay by James Clavell, best known as a writer of epic historical novels like Shogun, was based on a short story by George Langelaan that was originally published in Playboy magazine. Clavell's expansion of the story is teaming with grand moments, from the Phantom of the Opera-inspired scene when Helene finally unveils Andre's horrible fly head, to the infamous climax that features a spider bearing down on the fly with Andre's tiny head squeaking, “Help me, help me!” The Fly may not be a particularly good movie, but it is undoubtedly entertaining and makes it hard to peel away your eyes.

The Fly DVD
The Fly CollectionThe Fly is available as part of “The Fly Collection” four-disc DVD box set, which also includes Return of the Fly (1959) and The Curse of the Fly (1965).
Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by actor David (Al) Hedison and film historian David Del Valle on The Fly
  • 1997 A&E episode of Biography on Vincent Price
  • “Flytrap: Catching a Classic” featurette
  • Photo galleries for all three films
  • Lobby cards and posters galleries for all three films
  • Pressbook gallery for all three films
  • Fox Movietone News report on the premiere The Fly
  • Original theatrical trailers for The Fly and The Curse of the Fly
  • Original theatrical trailer and TV spots for Return of the Fly
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 11, 2007

    The big news in this new four-disc box set of all three original Fly movies is the improved anamorphic transfer of the original film. Previously available as part of a double-feature DVD released in 2000, the previous transfer of the The Fly was made from a print that suffered a bit of fading, as well as damage to the source print in the form of the blemishes, dirt, and vertical lines. The new anamorphic transfer of The Fly is a solid improvement, with brighter colors, a sharper image, and noticeably less damage and dirt. The bright tones of the DeLuxe color palette really shine, making this box set immediately worth the upgrade for longtime fans of the film. The transfer of Return of the Fly also appears to be new. It looks very good, improving on the original transfer with barely any damage or signs of aging, particularly the removal of speckling the marred the 2000 disc. The contrast is strong and vibrant with good detail, although some of the darkest scenes tend to get a bit muddy. The Curse of the Fly is making its DVD debut here, and it boasts an excellent new transfer that is sharp, crisp, and lacking in any damage.

    The soundtracks for all three films sound slightly dated in their lack of depth, but they have been well-preserved and sound very good for their age. The Dolby Digital 4.0 surround track offered on The Fly is particularly good for four-channel surround, even though most of the surround effects are reserved for the irritating whine that comes up again and again whenever Andre uses the disintegrator/reintegrator. The newly mastered 2.0 surround tracks for Return of the Fly and The Curse of the Fly are also quite good, despite their inherent limitations. All the soundtracks are clean, with no hints of background hiss or popping.

    With the exception of the disc for The Fly, which contains an audio commentary by star David (Al) Hedison and film historian David Del Valle, all the supplements in this box set reside on a fourth disc titled “The Fly Collection Disc of Horrors.” There is a 45-minute episode of A&E's Biography series on Vincent Price, as well as a new 12-minute featurette about the Fly trilogy titled “Flytrap: Catching a Classic.” It includes interviews with actors David Hedison and Brett Halsey, as well as clips from a 1987 video interview with Vincent Price; screenwriter and film historian Steve Haberman (Dracula: Dead and Loving It); writer/director Donald F. Glut (The Mummy's Kiss); Fangoria editor Tony Timpone; and film historian David Del Valle. The other supplements, most of which are stills galleries, are nicely organized according to each film. Supplements for The Fly include the original theatrical trailer, a one-minute Fox Movietone News short about the film's ballyhoo-laden premiere in Hollywood, and stills galleries of the original pressbook, behind-the-scenes photos, and production photos. Return of the Fly has an original theatrical trailer, a 60-second television spot (which also advertises The Alligator People), a gallery of lobby cards and posters, and a photo gallery. Supplements for The Curse of the Fly include an original theatrical trailer, pressbook gallery, lobby card and poster gallery, and a photo gallery. One cool thing that is worth mentioning is the way the pressbook galleries are organized: You can move through each page of the pressbook, and within each page you can highlight certain articles or pictures that take you to a zoomed viewed so you can read the fine print and see the details. Very well done.

    Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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