The Fly

There’s a trio of 50’s, sci-fi creature features that have always stood out from the pack for me. The first is Howard Hawk’s 1951 frosty alien chiller The Thing From Another World, another is goofy bone melter, The Blob, which oozed its way onto our planet in 1958 to give some trouble to Steve McQueen as history’s oldest teenager. The third, however, is slightly different as it doesn’t involve roaming space predators and flimsy communism metaphors but instead takes the Mary Shelly stance at impatiently wagging a disapproving finger at science as some scientist somewhere tries to play god and then spectacularly shits the bed. It is, of course, The Fly, and while all three of the movies I’ve mentioned got superior, gloopy 80’s remakes, this orginal tale of teleporters and transformation may truly be the best of them…

One night, wealthy Canadian François Delambre gets a disturbing phone call regarding his inventor brother André and his doting wife Hélène after it seems there’s been a horrific incident involving a pneumatic press. Andre’s head and arm seems to have been squished flatter than Canuck roadkill and the finger that pushed the button was his own sweet wife who seems strangely elated, like some horrible ordeal is finally over and has a strange obsession about looking for a abnormally large house fly that has a white head. Needless to say, Inspector Charas believes this is an open and shut case – or press – and deems the sweet seeming woman most likely guilty of ways of insanity which understandably horrifies François who believes his sister in law could never even as so much hurt a fly (sic). Lying to her by claiming to have captured said weird looking insect, François hopes to tease the truth out of a distressed Hélène only to be greeted by a fantastical story: André, it seems, managed to invent the means to teleport matter between spaces and was incredibly close to perfecting this game changing invention that would revolutionize the world overnight – no more Uber drivers for a start…
However, after sacrificing the family cat to the ancient god of scientific fuck ups, André finally thought he’d sorted everything out and decided to take a fateful trip himself only to fall foul of a literal fly in the ointment when the titular insect buzzes into the teleporter just before he makes the trip – remember kids: check twice, save a life.
The side effects of having your molecular structure swirled around with that of muscadomestica turns out to be instantaneous and horrific as André is left with his mind intact but has had his head and his arm swapped with a fly while the bug in question gets a human visage and appendage for its troubles.
Will anyone believe Hélène’s tragic, but blatantly insane story and if so, can the fly ever be found – those present will find that the events of this day will bug them for the rest of their lives…

So real talk: this is 50’s sci-fi and therefore no matter how high concept the film is there’ll always be a dodgy special effect or a bout of overly melodramatic acting here and there to distract those who are unable to take these thing into account. However, those of you that can see past a bug-eyed mask and the fact that we’re in a time where people chill out at home sitting upright at a desk while reading a newspaper and clad in a smoking jacket, the The Fly is a stone cold classic in cautionary science fiction.
Firstly, the premise just crackles with nightmarish, Kafka-esque promis, especially when considering the animal chosen to represent the monumental screw up has some ghastly habits. While we’re thankfully spared the sight of a mutated André circling some random pile of dog shit, his appearance is suprisingly solid, with a black cloth covering an altered bonce that’s actually a nicely subtle attempt to realise quite an outlandish design (check out sequel Return Of The Fly for a design that hilariously shoots for the moon). Plus a fittingly jerky physical performance from two time Felix Leiter and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’s David Hedison neatly shows the man’s failing humanity from the time he was still 100% human and quite a nice husband and father to boot.
However, doing all the heavy lifting is Patricia Owens’ Hélène, who really is the movie’s main character – after all, virtually everything we see is mostly from her point of view and her performance as she tries to keep her idyllic home home life from literally buzzing out the window may be laced with swooning 50’s melodrama, but it’s still engrossing as she leads us through the event while Vincent Price wrings his hands theatrically. Ah, yes… good old Vinnie Price. His role here is weirdly more of a peripheral one that needlessly takes the spotlight from the female lead; he’s in love with Hélèna but he’s not a romantic lead, he doesn’t turn into a fly or do anything particularly heroic apart from argue tirelessly on his sister in law’s behalf with the sceptical Inspector and yet the film “needs” someone to fill the white male void left from the script needing to give the dashing André his insectoid facelift. However, for a character that’s essentially just there, Vince runs with it, armed with those silken vocal chords, pleading other people’s cases and caring for his nephew despite essentially playing a bystander…
But while the flashback plot device tells an interesting story, it’s the little things that help the movie crawl into the little recesses of your brain; take that fantastic image of the mutated André’s POV as his wife recoils at the sight of him, his compound eyes translating it into countless screaming faces, or André’s handwriting slowly deteriorating (a fly writing cursive?) as his humanity gradually flies the coop.
But all this falls into significance in the face of The Fly’s most notorious scene, where François and Charas finally find that white headed fly caught in a web in the garden. As they stare, frozen and horrified at the ghoulish tableaux laid out before them, a tiny fly with the head and arm of André Delambre screams for help in a squeaky voice as a spider slowly advances on it with the obvious intent of getting well and truly stuck in for lunch. It’s probably one of the most memorable scene of it’s kind in 50’s genre movies and despite the hand-puppety arachnid, it’s still a scene that succeeds years later at utterly inducing the creeps in you.

Admittedly it’s a tad creaky here and there, The Fly still has enough goods to weave a thrilling yarn and its rock solid performances and unforgettable ending means that even after all these years, this film can still get an audience buzzing…

🌟🌟🌟🌟

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