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July 7, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #79 - The Fly

Utilizing a device that's generally restricted to film noir of the '40s or Oscar winning dramas, Kurt Neumann's 1958 classic opens with a character admitting to the murder of the title character.  She's not just a character either, she's the man's wife - a timid middle-aged redheaded woman played by Patricia Owens.  And, naturally, the person she offers her confession to is none other than Vincent Price - because that's what you do in a movie like The Fly.
Now overshadowed by its Cronenberg-flavored remake, the first film about a man/fly hybrid reminds me that dark and dreary was a part of sci-fi cinema long before the 1986 version offered a bleak and disgusting look at teleportation gone wrong.  Neumann's film opens with the reminder that a man is dead, accompanied by a shot of his smashed body in a factory press, and sets us up to quickly realize that this woman may die - at the law's hand - due to this. Her only help comes in the form of Vincent Price, a police investigator, her maid (played by Kathleen Freeman - who went on to portray 'The Penguin' in The Blues Brothers!), and her bumbling son, who catches flies for fun.  Seriously're a nerd.  In a bad way.

(By the way, check out Vincent's suave nightwear!  It's after midnight, and he's sitting at home looking like that.  Can you spell PIMP?)
Then the film, continuing to dance around the traditions of schlock that were prevalent in the '50s, goes into flashback mode and takes us back to the experiments of the now deceased husband.  His name was Andre Delambre, and he's one of those dudes who's completely devoted to SCIENCE in all ways, because SCIENCE - not your annoying wife or your dweeb kid - is like totally what's gonna save the world.  We see him experimenting with some sort of teleportation device, and everything is cool in his lab - until he randomly decides to test on the family cat.  Which was really adorable, and now I'm mad at him.
Undeterred after his poor fluffy cat seems to become a ghost, Andre decides that it's a good idea to test on himself - and you know where things go from here.  Suddenly we've got a half man/half fly in a lab and a half fly/half man in the garden, and poor Helene is left hunting the house and shouting orders about the "fly with a white head" that's on the loose.  And the police - and 'The Penguin' - just stare at her like she's crazy.  Not a fun predicament.
Unlike other sci-fi of its era - like, for example, The Blob - you can see that The Fly has a bit of a mean streak.  I've already mentioned its initial dose of smashed scientist and its murder investigation, but some of the more interesting scenes in the film involve the fly-headed man in the lab trying to explain his predicament to his wife.  The character's descent into madness - which was obviously the key to Cronenberg's remake - is handled quite well here.  A scene in which the late Doctor types out his jumbled thoughts shows off his fading mental state, and the degeneration of the character continues even further.  He becomes more violent in his motions and is a little creepy as the proceedings go on...except for the fact that he's a man with a fly's hand and head that looks kinda silly.
Also silly - but still creepy as all heck - is the ending.  It's iconic now, and has stuck with me since I was a young Mike.  Yet, upon this rewatch, I was taken aback once more by how mean the thing was.  It's telling that the film's epilogue didn't stick with me at all, but the dark images from that final scene were embedded in my brain for a couple of decades.  So the next time someone tells me that old-school horror and sci-fi doesn't have the edge that modern films could get, I might point them away from my beloved Blob and toward this version of The Fly.  It's the rare film that wasn't content to fit into what was expected at the time, and the result is an inventive shocker that's still worth seeking out.


therealphoenixanew said...

I watched this pretty recently, and I too got really mad when he was so nonchalant about the cat. But I guess a man who neglects his wife and kid all the time can't be bothered to care about their pet either. :P

Fred [The Wolf] said...

This will be my Original vs. Remake post for August, as this month will be for THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD/THE THING. I watched this a month ago and thought it was still pretty solid. A bit slow at times, but still worth a watch. And yeah, that poor cat. I'm sure he would have done the same to his son if he were around not catching flies.

Seo greece said...

Nice share, thanks for sharing this with us.