From the video box: Vincent Price portrays the brother of a brilliant research scientist (Al Hedison) who discovers how to transport matter through space. But things take an astoundingly bizarre turn when Hedison’s atoms intermingle with those of a common housefly, leaving him with the head of an insect while his own head is attached to the fly’s body. A gruesome freak of nature, his desperate battle to return to normal becomes all the more difficult when he begins to lose his human will. (1958, color)
Mark says: I don’t think anyone who ever saw this movie as a kid ever forgot it. I know that I never have.
Al Hedison (who later changed his name to David Hedison) and Patricia Owens do a capable job portraying Andre and Helene Delambre, a very happily married couple with a young son, Philippe. You may recognize Philippe (Charles Herbert) as Buck Zorba from 13 Ghosts (1960), or from his minor role in The Monster that Challenged the World (he played one of the kids fighting for the sailor’s cap). Personally, I think he is less than convincing in any role, but his brief appearances in The Fly do not hamper the film, much.
It is actually Al Hedison who transforms into the fly, though many people mistakenly remember it as Vincent Price (House of Wax, The Abominable Dr. Phibes) in the role of Andre’s brother, François Delambre. This is forgivable considering the plethora of ghastly characters Mr. Price has played before and since.
The Fly is filled with some of the most memorable scenes from sci-fi/horror film history, beginning with the opening sequence. As the story opens (most of the tale is told in flashback) we find Helene Delambre crushing her husband’s head and arm in a hydraulic press. The scene is shockingly gruesome, and sets an uneasy tone for the rest of the movie. This segment is much more graphic (and in color!) than similar films of the time.
Another image that leaves an indelible impression is when Helene tears off Andre’s ominous black hood to see his hideous fly head for the first time. We are suddenly given the fly’s point of view and watch multi-images of Helene as she screams. It’s hard to express how startling this scene was upon first viewing. The fly’s head may not be much by today’s standards, but it was certainly more than adequate for the time. Actually, it still holds a fair amount of creepiness.
And who can forget the concluding segment as the spider advances on the hapless human-headed fly? It’s hard to imagine a scene that inspires more pity and horror. Well, I suppose there’s a touch of humor here, too, but mostly pity and horror.
But The Fly is much more than just a sci-fi shockfest; it’s also a love story. Helene’s devotion to her husband, even after his transformation, is not only admirable, but touching. Because we get a genuine feeling for the affection Helene and Andre share for each other (and to a lesser extent, Philippe) the tragedy that befalls them seems even more calamitous.
Vincent Price is quite convincing as Andre’s brother, François. Of course, my good opinion of Mr. Price borders on the brink of bias, and I wouldn’t completely blame you if you regarded my praise as a bit suspect. Still, it is hard to imagine this film being as successful (or as fun) without him.
Unfortunately, The Fly has its share of unintentional humor. For example, when Andre attempts to teleport the family cat, the kitty never reappears. Instead, we hear his pained meows calling from “somewhere in space.” Even Andre says, “It’d be funny if life wasn’t so sacred.”
Also, when Andre starts losing his human will, his fly hand begins to battle his human hand. At first, it simply appears that Andre is having a tough time controlling his fly instincts. However, by the end of the film, it’s a full out war between the hands, and it can seem a little comical.
In addition, it’s hard not to grin when you hear the human-headed fly crying for help. Even as a kid I couldn’t take that voice completely seriously.
I would also suggest that the pacing is just a little slow. It’s good that we get to know the Delambre family, and I like the anticipation building up to the unveiling of the fly’s head, but it seems we are held in suspense just a wee-bit too long. But I’ve never been known for my attention span.
None of the drawbacks I mention above are enough to keep me from listing The Fly as one of my all-time favorite science fiction films. If you haven’t seen it for awhile, I heartily recommend you watch The Fly again. If you’ve never seen it (is this possible?), do yourself a favor and rent it. You won’t be disappointed.
Look for Herbert Marshall (Riders to the Stars) in the role of Inspector Charas, and Kathleen Freeman (The Magnetic Monster) as Emma, the Delambre maid.
Based on a story by George Langelaan, scripted by James Clavell.
Scene to watch for: The disgusted look on Helene’s face as Andre (under his hood) slurps up the milk and rum mixture she has prepared for him.
Line to listen for: “Hellllp meeee!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ½ out of 5.