Patricia Owens - Helene Delambre
Al Hedison - Andre Delambre
Vincent Price - Francois Delambre
Herbert Marshall - Inspector Charas
Charles Herbert - Philippe Delambre
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movie
Running Time - 94 Minutes
I originally had this Original vs. Remake review for both THE FLY (1958) and THE FLY (1986) planned for months now as a single post. But with both films being vastly different, even though they do have similar premises, I decided to separate the two reviews and give each film their spotlight. So let's start with the 50's horror classic that started it all.
Helen Delambre (Patricia Owens) was at the scene of the crime of her scientist husband, Andre Delambre's (Al Hedison), murder - a crime she confesses to without much emotion. After trying to hide the reason why she committed the crime, she tells her brother-in-law Francois (Vincent Price) and a police inspector (Herbert Marshall) about Andre's secret scientific experiment - a machine that would transfer an object from one location to another by bringing down its atoms and rebuilding it at the second location. It works on inanimate objects, yet has issues doing the same with living organisms [proven when his cat is turned into atoms and never comes back in solid form]. Andre figures out the formula eventually, but decides to test the experiment on himself. Unfortunately, a house fly with a white head was inside one of the transport chambers during the time of Andre's transference, causing the two to merge...
- The acting. THE FLY is a classic sci-fi/monster film from the 1950s and still manages to get praised over 50 years later. The acting has a lot to do with that, as it's solid all around. Patricia Owens carries the film as Helen, the poor neglected, yet supportive, wife of Andre. Owens does a fantastic job doing a slow burn from loving and supportive wife and mother, to a woman who begins losing her mind due to what happens to her husband. I think I enjoyed her performance more when she was a little nutty, especially when she's serving police officers [who want to arrest her for murder] as if she's done nothing wrong. I also loved how obsessed she became whenever a fly came into the room. I really thought she did a great job.
Al Hedison is also great as Andre. I bought him as a family man, who can't help but be obsessed with his work. But it isn't until he becomes the man-fly hybrid that Hedison really gets to do his thing. I'll discuss the special effects later, but it's well known that Hedison does play the mutated Andre and portrays his torment as a human fly in a realistic way. You really feel the struggle Hedison gives Andre, as he attempts to maintain control from the fly portion of his brain. I hear two or three actors turned down the role due to lack of screen time and face time. Probably a good thing since Hedison does a great job in the role.
The big name in the cast is obviously Vincent Price as Francois, Andre's brother. I think a lot of audiences probably think Price is playing The Fly here, but he's in a secondary role and supporting the main cast. While his presence does take away from Owens and Hedison in a way, Price is really the heart and soul of the film. He has a tremendous presence and his voice captivates you in every scene. He also brings a kindness and grounds the film during the more emotional scenes. I do wish he were in the film more because he's great, but any Vincent Price is good Vincent Price. Also, we have some good performances by Herbert Marshall as Inspector Charas and Charles Herbert as the cute Philippe, Andre and Helen's son. Just a nice, small cast that really bring out the emotion of this sci-fi film.
- The direction. Kurt Neumann really does a great job with the direction of THE FLY. The film is very melodramatic throughout, which is great because the tone is very consistent and you buy whatever you're watching. It feels like a drama for much of the film's runtime, until we watch Andre conducting experiments that bring a sense of horror to the movie. In fact, Neumann does the film a favor by giving a slow build of dread and tension from beginning to end. You know something bad has happened and as you see why, the atmosphere gets thicker and more tense in each scene.
I liked the slow reveal of Andre's transformation as The Fly. At first, we don't see him. Then when we do, he has something covering his head and he's hiding one of his hands. Then he hides how he eats his food, which is mainly sugar. Then Andre reveals his fly hand. And then in a great moment when Andre has his guard down, Helen takes the cloth off of Andre's hand to reveal the fly head. I love the shot of Helen screaming and then the next shot that replays the scream, done in a kaleidoscope effect in the point of view of Andre's fly vision. Just a really cool visual set up there that is still effective today.
I also think the film looks absolutely stunning for 1958 standards. It was shot in CinemaScope, which used anamorphic lenses to create a widescreen presentation. Very colorful, except for the laboratory scenes, and framed/composed really well. It's a shame that Neumann passed away a week before THE FLY had its wide release. He never got to appreciate the classic he created. Neumann did a really impressive job with this big budgeted film [film cost between $400,000 to $700,000 in 1958 dollars, believe it or not].
- The story. THE FLY was based on a short story of the same name by George Langelaan that was printed in Playboy Magazine in June of 1957. While some things have been changed to create a smoother film experience for audiences, the narrative is pretty much the same. THE FLY is pretty much a variation of the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde story, but told through the eyes of the scientist's wife - watching her husband transform with her own eyes since we barely watch his perspective of his change [only in short bursts]. While we do see Andre struggle after his DNA has been merged with that of a fly, it's really Helen's story. She's the one neglected. She's the one out of the picture when it comes to the truth. She's the one who tries to find the fly that accidentally got into Andre's experiment, becoming obsessed with that task. She's the one who sees Andre's transformation and helps him commit suicide. She tries to be the good wife. She tries to be the good mother. She tries to be the good sister-in-law. Helen is the one who has to deal with what Andre has done at the end. It builds her character quite a lot and we like her, because even through really bad times, she's still there for Andre wanting to help him become the man he once was.
Andre's role is the message of the film - playing God with science will only lead to terrible things in the end. His quest for knowledge and to make a mark in the world's future technological expansion leads him to his fate. His obsession with his invention may have financially aided his family, but he turns out to be a bad father and husband because he hardly spends time with them. Maybe his transformation is karma for not having his priorities straight. Either way, Andre's story is one of tragedy that leaves a lasting impression on his family [judging by the sequels that would result from this].
The story is fairly simple and straight-forward, but have great moments. From the family cat, Dandelo, becoming nothing but atoms that meow into thin air, to Andre's slow transformation into a human fly, to the constant search for the white-headed fly that Philippe caught but was forced to let go by Helen [a great moment of dramatic irony], to the ending itself, THE FLY is very memorable. The ending, in particular, is probably one of the most classic moments in the horror genre, as Francois and Inspector Charas prove Helen's innocence by finding a fly caught in a spider web that has Andre's head and human arm, screaming "Help me!" while a spider attempts to eat him. It leads to an interesting theme about the laws of life and death, concerning what would be considered murder, that seems to imply that killing any living thing is considered murder. THE FLY is a great story because we all have a quest for knowledge, which sometimes gets us into trouble even when it isn't planned. And especially during the 1950s, the idea of science and technology was a scary thing for many people. THE FLY reflects that a great deal.
- The special effects. While primitive compared to what we see today [or what we saw in the 1986 remake by David Cronenberg], I still think the special effects are still very cool all these years later. I thought the scenes where objects were being transferred from one pod to the next were shot and edited well, with cool lighting and sound effects. The fly head and the fly hand look great in my opinion. I like how the fly face twitches, making it look more creepy and probably scaring the bejeezus of people back in 1958. And the "Help me!" moment with Hedison's head on a fly body looks a bit fake, but I'm still impressed they pulled that off 54 years ago. Just a great visual presentation all around. It still holds up.
- A couple of subplots. While the narrative of THE FLY is great and works in both the original and the 80s remake, this version of THE FLY has some subplots that either seem forced or never go anywhere. While I appreciate what the message this film is trying to send to audiences for its time, there's an entire scene where Andre and Helen discuss the evils of science and technology that just seems so forced and ruins the film's flow for me. It's just so heavy-handed to me, especially when the film does a good enough job telling the same message without actually using dialogue. By having Andre turn into a fly and cause his wife and brother more grief than necessary, the message has already been made. Having three minutes where the characters discuss this seems unnecessary and unnatural. It's not the worst thing in the world, but I'm not a fan of that kind of storytelling.
Also, the love subplot between Helen and Francois never really goes anywhere. It's obvious from the start that Francois has feelings for Helen, which I'm not sure if she realizes or not. In a lot of ways, Francois is more of a husband and father than Andre is. I kind of wish there was more tension between the three characters in some form of love triangle, but it's not really what the story is about. Still, I kind of wish that angle for Francois was never in the story because it doesn't go anywhere, although the ending implies that something may happen. I guess in 1958, likeable characters couldn't covet their brother's wives.
THE FINAL HOWL
The 1958 version of THE FLY is a classic for a reason - it has memorable moments, it has a great visual style, cool special effects for its time, a story that engages you, and solid acting by everyone involved. While there were things about the narrative that kind of bugged me, I still enjoy the hell out of this classic sci-fi flick and thing that every sci-fi/horror fan should check it out. No need to swat the original THE FLY away.