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)