The Fly (1958) - "Help Me!"

The Fly (1958) directed by Kurt Neumann and based on a short story by George Langelaan – recounts the story of a scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) who constructs a matter transmitter (teleportation machine) within which he accidentally gets his atoms mixed up with those of a fly.

The human and insect swap body parts - Hedison is left with the fly's head and arm (leg?) whilst the fly has the scientists head and arm. The idea is utterly preposterous, but on screen it becomes an effective piece of sci-fi horror.

Eventually, after a number of failed attempts to separate himself from the insect, as well as suffering mental deterioration as the insect half takes over his mind, the scientist convinces his wife Helene (Patricia Owens) to help him end his life. Meanwhile the fly with the human head has been trapped in a spider's web and screams for help as the arachnid moves in for the kill.

The Fly is grimly unforgiving - if mankind wishes to build machines capable of deconstructing its very biology, it must be prepared to suffer the consequences. This the scientist does in sensational fashion, and the ending of the movie isn’t exactly typical of genre cinema of the time.

The movie is a successful attempt to do something original in 1950s science fiction cinema, and succeeds. The script, written by novelist James Clavell, is sharp and realistic, and so are the performances. David Hedison (then known as Al Hedison) is particularly good as the blighted scientist, whilst Vincent Price offers excellent support from the sidelines as the scientist's brother Francois. Patricia Owens also good as the wife who gets charged with her husbands murder and no one believes her fantastic story.

The special effects aren’t especially interesting except for one memorable and startling scene when the wife sees the face of her deformed husband and there is a shot of her screaming through the compound eyes of the fly.

The Fly is a classic monster movie that has shocked viewers and inspired filmmakers ever since its initial release. Scientifically implausible and absurd, yet still profound in its exploration of the relationship between man and machine, it is an evocative and understated achievement.

The financial success of The Fly inspired two direct sequels. Return of the Fly starring Vincent Price appeared a year later and was basically a re-tread, this time the scientists son continuing the experiments also gets his atoms mixed with a fly’s, though this time it isn’t an accident.

Curse of the Fly (1965) made some attempt to develop the idea, this time several people have their atoms scrambled when they are “teleported” to London and many suffer bizarre deformities. Neither of the sequels could compare to the sheer originality of the first film in the series.

In 1986 director David Cronenberg successfully remade and updated the movie, also titled The Fly. Jeff Goldblum plays the unlucky scientist Seth Brundle and Geena Davis his girlfriend Veronica, both are excellent in their roles.

Goldblum, who has never been better than in this portrayal of the doomed “brundlefly”, memorably deteriorates mentally and physically as the insect takes over. One of Cronenberg's best films and a masterwork of sci-fi horror.

The Critics review The Fly (1958) -

“This is probably the most ludicrous, and certainly one of the most revolting science-horror films ever perpetrated.” (Ivan Butler, Horror in the Cinema)

“A high budget, beautifully and expensively mounted exploitation picture... One strong factor of the picture is its unusual believability.” (Variety)

“Ludicrous stuff, of course, but Price lends his own inimitable and delightful brand of bravura to the role of Hedison’s concerned brother, while James (Shogun) Clavell’s script successfully treads a fine line between black comedy and po-faced seriousness.” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out)

“One of the better, more restrained entries of the “shock” school.... A quiet, uncluttered and even unpretentious picture, building up almost unbearable tension by simple suggestion.” (Howard Thompson, New York Times)

"Plush horror has arrived; in other words a monstrosity has achieved a kind of respectability, which is hardly a pretty thought... From this to exhibiting two-headed babies or bearded ladies seems a very short step." (Isabel Quigly, Spectator)

“Morally repugnant.” (Richard Hodgens, Focus on the Science Fiction Film)

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Comments 11 comments

Pierre Savoie profile image

Pierre Savoie 5 years ago from Canada

Great stuff. This movie had something different.

What amuses me is they may make THE FLY into a musical. What kind of lines will they have?

"I used to dislike human waste / But now it has a spicy taste!"


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Awesome review...I will take the original over the newer one...any day of the week. The ending of Vincent Price's Fly is a classic one.....as for Goldblum.....very well done with great special effects....but the movie is not fun to watch....in my opinion.....and the Stoltz Fly is horrible...great photos you have included...


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

The Fly would have earned 50 million in 2011 dollars....sorry Steve I could not help myself....I just had to share....lol


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

$50m? That's not bad I suppose, back in the 50's a SF or horror movie grossing $2m or $3m was considered a hit warranting a sequel.

I'm a bit of a David Cronenberg fan and his remake is still my favourite of his films. I thought it was superb, a bit on the icky and gory side sure but most of his films are like that.

Pierre, Cogerson thanks for your comments. The Fly The Musical? :)


Pierre Savoie profile image

Pierre Savoie 5 years ago from Canada

Actually it is called The Fly, the Opera. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fly_(opera)


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

I think I'll skip that one Pierre.

I wonder if Saw the Musical is on the way too?

Scream the Opera?


YankeesRule profile image

YankeesRule 5 years ago

I love this movie. Vincent Price is awesome, give me the old time imaginative horror of the 50s versus the blood and guts of the 2000s. Voted up.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 5 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

AMAZING hub! Thank you for the nostalgic trip! The more-vintage, the better. No one beats the Original Fly! Keep up the great work.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for the comment Kenneth, much appreciated.

And a belated thanks for your post, YankeesRule.


Noel Tanti profile image

Noel Tanti 4 years ago from Malta

love the film posters you included... imho nothing beats the early posters... as re cronenberg's version, i'm with you, i much prefer his version to neumann's even though it's not my favourite cronenberg (dead ringers takes the cake)...


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting Noel, I love those old posters too. And I'm a big fan of Cronenberg's grisly remake.

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