Starring Vincent Price, David Hedison and Patricia Owens
There is something undeniably fun about old sci-fi movies, whether it’s the cheesy, pseudo-science dialogue or the bizarre (but not always incorrect) ideas of the future or the laughable special effects. As silly as they may seem at times, these films speak to the fears of a bygone era that many of us never lived through, like the space race or the Cold War or the threat of a Communist invasion. THE FLY (1958) is one such film; it captures this particular tone and while it addresses the fear of technological advancement, it also proves to be quite a fun trip.
Before David Cronenberg introduced the world to his harrowing vision of living with a deadly disease as seen in 1986’s THE FLY, director Kurt Neumann showed the world a different creature altogether back in 1958. While the story is essentially the same at its core (a scientist has invented a way to teleport objects from one snazzy looking device into another by breaking them down at the atomic level and having the object reconfigure itself in a different location), the comparisons between the two versions, and there are many, end there.
Scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) has been found dead, squished between two hydraulic plates by his wife Helen (Patricia Owens), who has called her brother-in-law (Vincent Price) to confess to the crime. As the police arrive to the site and place Helen under some form of house arrest, she goes on almost hysterically about a house fly with a white head and leg, screaming at a nurse who attempts to kill the flying irritant in her bedroom. When Helen eventually calms down, she tells the inspector and her brother-in-law about the science experiments her husband was conducting in his laboratory in their basement and how one went terribly wrong. And of course since Andre was experimenting with teleportation, how could it not?
I will always and forever love Vincent Price; there is something about the sound of his voice that really does it for me. Everybody considers him to be famous for his roles in campy B-horror movies, and the role of Francois in THE FLY was what gave him his start in the genre. Even though he did get typecast later in his career, just watching him is a complete joy for me. He plays his role with an air of seriousness but yet everything he says or does still seems to come off as cheeky humour. When Helen tells him to come to the basement to have a look at Andre’s latest experiment, Francois says “Well, what is it? Flat screen?” with such an arrogant, yet genuinely curious brilliance.
Price aside, the supporting cast is also very strong. Owens (whom I have never personally seen in anything else) plays her role of the concerned yet ever loving 50’s housewife incredibly well, almost too well. Her devotion to her husband makes the scene where his malformation is revealed even more devastating and her scream of pure terror resonates and will chill you to your bones. Hadison, who plays the curious scientist and husband, gives a charming, yet ultimately unnerving performance as the half man, half fly. When Andre crosses paths with the fly and is rendered unable to speak, the rest of his performance is through typed letters and pantomime efforts. It sounds rather cheesy written down, but on screen it works incredibly well.
World renowned make-up artist Ben Nye created the fly mask that is worn by Hadison in the later part of the film and, while simple by today’s standards, it still manages to be just as creepy and a little gross today. Some people might find it a little laughable, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but those moving parts near the mouth made me pretty uncomfortable, I’ve got to admit. The set pieces are rather fantastic as well, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the utter complexity of the laboratory itself, which is filled with blinking lights, whirling gadgets, possibly thousands of feet of wire and cables and, of course, neon lights. Any movie about a scientist on the brink of discovery would be lacking if it didn’t include such a set piece.
I could have sworn that THE FLY was a black and white movie, and in case you think it is too, well, we are both wrong. The two sequels were shot in black and white, but the original, for whatever reason, was shot in glorious colour. The pink of Helen’s lips looks almost 80’s vibrant, but this is probably thanks to the new beautiful Blu-ray transfer. The movie may suffer from some issues with pacing (it might be one of the slower 50’s sci-fi films I’ve seen) and it might not really be all that scary, but it still manages to get under your skin. The little fly with the white head caught in the spider web screaming “help meeee” will forever haunt my dreams. That, and the echoing sound of the cats meow as it’s deconstructed atoms float through the air. Creepy.