The Fly (1958)
There are certain movies that we first see at a very young age but manage to stay fondly ensconced in our memories. If experienced at the right moment it can be instrumental in the formation of our cinematic appreciation enduring for the rest of our lives. One of the best things about technological advances is we get opportunities to own these films and repeatedly enjoy them. Back when I first watched ‘The Fly’. The 1958 original not the remake done much later by David Chronenberg, I could never imagined that one day I would hold in my hands a shiny disc that could play this film in a format far superior in audio and video than the neighborhood theater could ever muster. This iconic science fiction movie and one of the better representations of the popular science fiction sub-genre commonly referred to as a creature feature. Aspects of this movie have endured firmly placed in the collective consciousness of our culture. The final scene alone is one of the most recognizable in the annals of Sci-Fi.
In the fifties our society was undergoing drastic changes. The soldiers returned from World War Two have built comfortable lives and perfect nuclear families and many of the changes our culture was undergoing was due to scientific advancements, while technology gave us labor saving home appliances and new forms of entertainment it also ushered us into the age of nuclear weapons that could destroy the world. This made scientists the perfect foil to provide the motivation for many of the horror and Sci-Fi flicks of the era. ‘The Fly’ represented this trend as a blend of the two genres depicting the need to probe the secrets on the universe as a door way into unspeakable terror.
Research scientist Andre Delambre (Al Hedison) is found dead in his laboratory his head and right arm crushed between a gigantic industrial press. His widow, Helene (Patricia Owens) confesses readily to the authority that she committed the crime but adamantly refuses to offer any motive for her actions. She has also suddenly been obsessed with finding a fly with a white head. Her Brother-in-law, Francois (Vincent Price) tries to draw her out by calming to have found the insect she is searching for. Somewhat calmer Helene begins to explain to Francois the bizarre circumstances that led up to the recent tragedy. This slips the movie into flashback mode.
The technique of teasing the audience with the dire consequences of some cutting edge experiment gone terribly awry but the way it is handled in this movie is classic; a road map to how a filmmaker should pull his audience into his movie. Knowing the end as you start a story may seem counter intuitive for a film that is intended to licit fight and fear. In most cases you would be correct holding to this superstition but with director Kurt Neumann working from a screenplay by noted author James Clavell the results was a defining moment in the genre. You might recognize the name of the screenwriter as the author of such novels as ‘Shogun’ and ‘Tai-pan’, and scripts for ‘To Sir, With Love’ and the epic ‘The Great Escape’. The director, Kurt Neumann, was a name quite familiar to those of us film geeks who insisted on reading every credit after the film. He was exceptionally well versed on how to tell an engaging story particular in this point of our history. This film played into the pervading national fears that science is moving too fast to properly control. Delambre, like most researchers of the time, was after a laudable goal; to develop a means to instantaneously transport matter from point A to B without being in between. This would revolutionize the world creating fast, safe transportation and the ability to move materials anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye. His teleportation device consisted of a pair of chambers. The subject was disassembled on the atomic level to be perfectly reassembled in the similar device at the destination. The initial tests seem to go as planned but when Delambre performed the first human test on himself a housefly was trapped in the source container during the disassembly. His body was mixed with the fly resulting with a tiny fay with his head and arm and a humanoid insect with a giant fly’s head and arm. Delambre goes into hiding getting his wife to bring him food but when she gets a glimpse of his true form she screams in terror. Ultimately the flashback catches up with the start of the film; He places his horribly deformed head in the press, and has her set the gap distance to 0" before she reluctantly pushes the initiate button.
The name Al Hedison may not seem familiar to fans of classic Sci-Fi television but the face most certainly is. Under the name of David Hedison he was the First Officer of the ‘Seaview’ in the Irwin Allen series ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’. Here he nails the requisite role crucial to the fifties fear of science flicks. His character had altruistic motives that would greatly benefit mankind. His fatal character flaw was twofold; hubris for believing he could single handedly change the world and impatience, not taking the proper time and protocols that could have prevented a stray insect flying in to a rushed human experiment. Much of the time the human fly is on the screen his head and hand is covered by a piece of cloth. Unlike the majority of creature features this film is judiciously sparing with actually showing the monster. Another major difference that sets this film above the typical offering, the monster is not a rampaging threat to a city or the world. This is a very intimate and personalized story where the danger is confined to one man and how he is perceived by his family. The scene where he is revealed to his wife is frightening because it resonates with the audience and a deeply personal and emotional level. In the majority of monster movies there is inevitably a shot of a mob of panicked people fleeing for their lives. The lasting impact of this movie is derived from an almost gentle treatment of the transformation. Despite his appearance his humanity was retained in the human fly not the fly with the human head. This generated a degree of pathos that carries throughout the film making it exceptional.
After seeing this movie in a neighborhood theater, old style television, VHS and DVD it was a true treat to finally watch it in the high definition afforded by Blu-ray. It was filmed in a variation of Technicolor which transferred to 1080p incredibly well. The colors are more vibrant and distinct than I have ever seen them before. The Cinemascope anamorphic widescreen that was cutting edge then provided more than sufficient information for rendering in high definition. This is also reflected in the audio. 4-Track Stereo provides a full. Rich sound field when upverted to modern surround sound. This is not only a masterpiece of its genre but serves as a piece of cinematic and personal history.