The Fly (1958)
The Fly (1958)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: July 16th, 1958 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Kurt Neumann Actors: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman, Betty Lou Gerson, Charles Herbert

 


 

F

rancois Delambre (Vincent Price) receives a call from his perturbed sister-in-law, Helene (Patricia Owens), who admits that she just killed her husband Andre (Al Hedison) at the Delambre Electronics factory. Worker Gaston (Torben Meyer) delivers a similar message, insisting that a body has been crushed in a hydraulic press. Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) is called to the scene to collect evidence and is horrified to discover a man’s head and arm, squashed repeatedly under the industrial equipment. The family doctor reports that Helene is now in a state of euphoria, as if she’s happy about the happening, answering questions to the police as if she’s delightfully mad. During the interrogation, she seems bizarrely preoccupied by a common housefly.

Although she admits to killing Andre (though not murdering him), she won’t say why she did it. Francois and Charas investigate Andre’s laboratory, but can’t figure out what his latest scientific experiment involved. While the psychiatrist and Francois assume Helene is insane, Charas doesn’t believe it. In time, Helene tells the whole story, via flashback, chronicling Andre’s invention of a transportation device that breaks down matter into atomic particles before transferring them at the speed of light from one glass box to another. Although it’s successful, his interest in transmitting living organisms – a task the machine is tweaked to handle – leads to his undoing. When an inconspicuous fly enters the workspace, the consequences are devastating.

The film starts with an overlong setup, going to lengths to create tension. The story almost drags as it provides many minutes (a third of the running time) to ponder the circumstances of a mysterious, grisly death and the obsessed woman who reveals nothing about her connection. Nearly every room the characters inhabit has a fly buzzing about, lending to greater curiosity for its purpose or symbolism. As it turns out (or as evinced by advertising, trailers, and poster art), the heart of the story is a mad scientist’s diabolical accident with the ordinary insect. “They wouldn’t harm anything, not even a fly,” claims Francois, when discussing the subject of Andre’s work. Like “Frankenstein,” “The Fly” comments on meddling with Mother Nature and conducting unholy experimentations that, of course, result in tragedy and calamity instead of advancement and prestige.

Like most great horror movies, “The Fly” contains a mixture of other genres. Here, a rather notable love theme presides over romantic elements, including Andre’s happiness with his scientific progress and his wife, and the remnants of an unrealized love triangle. Science-fiction notions are also presented, with the neon glowing lights of a matter transporting device (akin to the transmission of television signals) and the cold grey steel of a researcher’s underground lab. There’s also a bit of humor – some instances more unintentional than others – most conspicuously with the explanation of the disintegration and reintegration of the unwilling test subject Dandalo the cat. He disappeared “into space – a stream of cat atoms,” motions Andre with his hands. And finally, the horror points, when they arrive, are sensationally dominant, initiated with the foreboding metal door of the lab hiding whatever horrific mishap prevents the scientist from speaking. Later, Andre reveals a hooded face and a monstrously clawed hand, suggesting the most physically catastrophic sort of disaster. And like the very best monster movies, the creature itself isn’t revealed until very late into the picture. Here, the climax is also unforgettable, suspenseful, and tinged with an appropriately classic “Hollywood” ending.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10