THE FLY

(1958)
With David Hedison (as Al Hedison), Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman, Charles Herbert
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Reviewed by JB

"Honey, is my man open?"     It's funny how things you see as a kid can stay with you forever.  There are three moments (more, really, but three will do for now) that have been stuck in my brain ever since the first time I saw THE FLY on television.  First, the haunting, ethereal "meow... meow" of a now-vanished cat who had been sent through one teleporter but failed to materialize in the other and was now nothing but cat atoms floating about somewhere. (But how could it meow? Shut up!).  Second, the moment the scientist's wife rips the black towel off her husband's head and sees that, yes, indeed, his experiment has gone very, very wrong (see picture on right).  And finally, the one moment in this film that anybody who has ever seen the film even once will remember: the little half-man, half-fly (the other half of the spectacularly failed experiment) stuck in a spider web, pathetically screaming "Help me... heeelllp meeee...." in that eerie, high-pitched voice as a spider bears down on him.

    That's three unforgettable moments in one film, and that's saying a lot.  How many movies have three moments that burn into your brain like that?  Sure, some movies have dozens (For me, I'm thinking CASABLANCA, THE GODFATHER, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, THE WIZARD OF OZ, GOODFELLAS) but I'm talking about a cheap little film from the late fifties that played on a double bill with SPACE MASTER X-7. Three moments like that from a movie like this is an outstanding ratio, and the best part is, the rest of the film - the film surrounding those three moments - is still fun, creepy and suspenseful today.

    For anybody who hasn't seen the original film or the interesting but much different David Cronenberg remake of the '80s, the story is simple: a genius inventor (David Hedison) creates a teleporter which splits up the atoms of any object and sends them across the air to recombine in a receiving teleporter. Unfortunately, when he attempts to send himself across the room in this manner, he doesn't notice that a common housefly has hitched a ride with him, and their atoms recombine with each other.  Not a pretty sight, for the man or the fly.  The result is two new kinds of Oh My God: a scientist with a fly's head and one leg where his left arm used to be, and a fly with a human head and a left arm where one of its legs used to be.

I only have eyes and eyes and eyes for you    David Hedison does a hell of a job as Andre Delambre, the aforementioned poor unfortunate egghead who accidentally fuses himself with a housefly.  In the second half of the film, he plays most of his part with one hand shoved in his lab coat pocket (because he doesn't want to shock his wife by showing his fly leg, plus it tends to have a mind of its own) and a black hood covering his head.  Yet hs is amazingly effective in showing the growing frustration and insanity that is taking over his mind as his fly half attempts to dominate his human personality.  He twitches his head like a fly, his right arm fights with his new fly appendage, he wants to caress his wife and also kill her, and Hedison, playing the part without the use of his face for the entire second half of the film, makes Mr. Delambre a very sympathetic character. It's not like he meant to make himself a monster; he was simply testing out what should have been a wonderful invention.  The most heartbreaking moment in the film comes when he is attempting to write some messages to his wife on his blackboard (his fly head cannot speak), and after several increasingly illegible lines, he manages to scrawl out "Love You", his last, desperate message to a wife with whom he will never again be intimate.  Hedison would never become a household name, but he's one of those actors who will always be remembered by many movie and TV fans because of how many cult or high-profile projects he appeared in.  I saw him once at a horror convention, and as he was happily interacting with fans, I heard him say "So what kind of fan are you?  The Fly, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or James Bond?".  Hedison starred in the 1960s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and played 007's CIA pal Felix Leiter in two separate Bond films - 1973's LIVE AND LET DIE and 1989's LICENSE TO KILL).  For a non-household name actor, that's a pretty good career right there.

    Patricia Owens deserves equal praise as the devoted wife who is stunned by her husband's transformation but still loves him, fly head and all. Owens must play her as insane and sane at the same time, and does so perfectly.  When she finally sees what happened to her husband, her first instinct is to scream (who wouldn't?) but then she quickly calms down.  Why?  Has she been driven mad or has she suddenly realized the only possible humane solution to this tragic problem that has befallen her beloved husband?  Or is it a little bit of both.  The character and the story tell us one thing, but Owen's performance actually leaves the truth floating out there somewhere with the poor housecat.  Vincent Price, as Delambre's brother, does a fine job in one of those rare horror movies in which he, one of the the Kings of fifties and sixties fright movies, plays the most normal character in the film.

    A funny thing: when I watched this the other night on DVD, I had no idea it was in color.  I hadn't seen this film since I was a kid, and I remembered it as being in black and white. Apparently, so do a lot of other people who also grew up watching most old movies on a black and white TV set.  I believe the reason people are confused when they see it in color after all these years is that it was so damned effective on a black and white set, where the lack of color made Hedison's fly mask less obvious.  In black and white, it really looks much more like a fly head.  - JB

Science Fiction   The Secret Vortex

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR GOOD MOVIE QUOTES

"Help me.... help meeee..."


SEQUELS AND REMAKES AND SEQUELS OF REMAKES

Return of the Fly (1959)
Curse of the Fly (1965)
The Fly (1986 - with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis)
The Fly II (1989)