Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

THE FLY (1958)

THE FLY (1958). Director: Kurt Neumann.

George Langelaan's novelette "The Fly," originally published in Playboy in 1957, is one of the all-time great terror stories, presenting a fascinating scientific notion and elaborating it by piling horror upon horror. The film version, with a screenplay by James Clavell, is very faithful to the story in most respects. Andre Delambre (David Hedison, billed as Al) has invented a matter transmitter [years before Star Trek's teleportation device] that can send things and people from one chamber to the next, and theoretically will be able to ship supplies and individuals to other countries and even planets. Unfortunately, Delambre is careless and allows a common house fly to get into the chamber just as he is about to teleport himself into the next room, resulting in a man with a horrible fly's head [but human brain -- at first] and a fly with a tiny human head and leg [apparently matter transmission can redistribute atoms and change sizes, but no bother]. The film, like the story, unfolds as a mystery, as Delambre's wife Helene (Patricia Owens) tries to explain to her brother-in-law Francois (Vincent Price) and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) why she lowered a crushing mechanical press down onto the body of her husband, nearly obliterating his form. [The shot of the lower half of Delambre sticking out from under the press, a puddle of blood surrounding it, especially gruesome in color, was undoubtedly cut out of television prints.] Hedison is fine as Delambre, although most of the time he has to wear a not-very-convincing mask. Although she gets an A for effort and has a few good moments, Patricia Owens is generally out of her depth as the wife who is nearly driven mad by the grotesque developments of the story. Vincent Price pretty much walks through the movie, seemingly disinterested in the material, but Herbert Marshall is solid and professional, as ever, as the police inspector. The climactic scene with the fly caught in the spider's web still packs a horrifying wallop. Although there are unfortunate elements to the movie that border on burlesque, it works as a mostly effective tragic horror flick. Kurt Neumann's [Carnival Story, Kronos] direction is only standard, however, and the film is not as good as the novella. Paul Sawtell's score, including a generic love theme, is likewise mediocre. Photographed by Karl Struss, who often worked with Neumann. Kathleen Freeman has a small role as a maid who tries to find "the fly with a white head."

Verdict: Imaginative and in some ways rather disgusting. ***.

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