Monday, 12 December 2011

The Fly (1958)

The Fly (I’m speaking of course of the original 1958 version) is a rather odd Vincent Price science fiction/horror movie. Price plays a minor supporting role and is neither the villain nor the doomed hero.

The actual hero is Andre Delambre (played by David Hedison although at that time he was calling himself Al Hedison). Andre is a scientist. Not a mad scientist, but a scientist who is dabbling in Things that Science Should Not Dabble In. His current project is teleportation. He has succeeded in teleporting objects over short distances, but with mixed results. Sometimes the objects are reversed during the process. When he tries to teleport his pet cat the results are entirely unsuccessful.

You’d think this would have acted as a warning that maybe this process is rather dangerous but despite this Andre decides to use himself as an experimental test subject. The first attempt is successful, but when he tries to repeat the experiment he unfortunately fails to notice that a fly is in the chamber with him. This is a very unlucky oversight since now his atoms and the fly’s atoms are mixed up. He is part man and part fly, and so is the fly.

Everything would be OK if he could find the fly. He could simply repeat the process and hopefully everything would then come unscrambled. But you’d be amazed just how difficult it can be to find one particular fly again.

The story is told in flashback, with the movie starting with what is actually the horrifying (and very gruesome) end of Andre’s story.

The story is really too ambitious for the special effects that were available at the time, but the story is strong enough to largely overcome that problem.

In most of these scientific hubris movies the scientist is clearly working in areas that raise moral questions about the limits of science, but this one is interesting because Andre is not really doing that. He’s not playing around with the building blocks of life or trying to play God by conquering death or creating artificial life. He’s not doing anything that anyone could raise any valid moral objections to it. So his downfall is brought about purely by bad luck. The most you could say is that he is perhaps being too ambitious.

The story raises potentially interesting questions about what makes us human but it largely ignores such issues. That’s one of the things that that makes David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake a more interesting film.

David Hedison makes a reasonably effective scientist doomed hero. Vincent Price is good as always but the movie doesn’t really give him much opportunity for demonstrating his acting skills. Patricia Owens as Andre’s wife has the most interesting role, a woman facing a murder charge who has to try to convince the sympathetic detective (played by Herbert Marshall) that her strange tale is true and that therefore it wasn’t really murder.

The most emotionally charged scene, the one with the spider’s web, remains affecting despite the rather crude special effects.

While the science is very silly that’s not really the main point of the movie which is more concerned with the tragic fate of Andre and the appalling dilemma faced by his wife, and it’s that aspect that distinguishes it from most other science fiction movies of its era and makes it worth seeing.

Fox’s DVD release is barebones but it’s a decent enough print and preserves the film’s correct Cinemascope aspect ratio.

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