The Fly (1958 film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kurt Neumann|
|Produced by||Kurt Neumann|
|Screenplay by||James Clavell|
|Based on||short story The Fly|
by George Langelaan
|Music by||Paul Sawtell|
|Edited by||Merrill G. White|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Budget||between $325,000  and $495,000|
|Box office||$3 million|
The Fly is a 1958 American science fiction-horror film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann and starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay by James Clavell was based on the 1957 short story of the same name by George Langelaan.
The film tells the story of a scientist who is transformed into a grotesque creature after a common house fly enters unseen into a molecular transporter he is experimenting with, resulting in his atoms being combined with those of the insect, producing a human-fly hybrid. The film was released in CinemaScope with Color by Deluxe by 20th Century Fox. It was followed by two black-and-white sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965). The original film was remade in 1986 by director David Cronenberg.
In Montreal, Quebec, Canada, scientist André Delambre (David Hedison) is found dead with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press. Although his wife Hélène (Patricia Owens) confesses to the crime, she refuses to provide a motive, and begins acting strangely. In particular, she is obsessed with flies, including a supposedly white-headed fly. André's brother, François (Vincent Price), lies and says he caught the white-headed fly; and, thinking he knows the truth, Hélène explains the circumstances surrounding André's death.
In flashback, André, Hélène, and their son Philippe (Charles Herbert) are a happy family. André has been working on a matter transporter device called the disintegrator-integrator. He initially tests it only on small inanimate objects, such as a newspaper, but he then proceeds to living creatures, including the family's pet cat (which fails to reintegrate, but can be heard meowing somewhere) and a guinea pig. After he is satisfied that these tests are succeeding, he builds a man-sized pair of chambers. One day, Hélène, worried because André has not come up from the basement lab for a couple of days, goes down to find André with a black cloth over his head and a strange deformity on his left hand. Communicating with typed notes only, André tells Hélène that he tried to transport himself but that a fly was caught in the chamber with him, which resulted in the mixing of their atoms. Now, he has the head and left arm of a fly; and the fly has his miniature head and left arm, though he keeps his mind.
André needs Hélène to capture the fly so he can reverse the process. Although she expends great effort in her search, she cannot find it and André's will begins to fade as the fly's instincts take over his brain. Time is running out, and while André can still think like a human, he smashes the equipment, burns his notes, and leads Hélène to the factory. When they arrive, he sets the hydraulic press, puts his head and arm under, and motions for Hélène to push the button. Andre's arm falls free as the press descends and, trying not to look, she raises the press, replaces the arm, and activates the machine a second time.
Upon hearing this confession, the chief detective on the case, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall), deems Hélène insane and guilty of murder. As they are about to haul her away, Philippe tells François he's seen the fly trapped in a web in the back garden. François convinces the inspector to come and see for himself. The two men see the fly, trapped in the web, with both André's head and arm. It screams "Help me! Help me!" as a large brown spider advances on it. Just as the spider is about to devour the creature, Charas crushes them both with a rock. Knowing that nobody would believe the truth, he and François decide to declare André's death a suicide so that Hélène is not convicted of murder. In the end, Hélène, François, and Philippe resume their daily lives. Sometime later, Philippe and Hélène are playing croquet in the yard. François arrives to take his nephew to the zoo. In reply to his nephew's query about his father's death, François tells Philippe, "He was searching for the truth. He almost found a great truth but for one instant, he was careless. The search for the truth is the most important work in the whole world and the most dangerous". The film closes with Hélène escorting her son and François out of the yard.
- David Hedison (credited as Al Hedison) as André Delambre
- Patricia Owens as Hélène Delambre
- Vincent Price as François Delambre
- Herbert Marshall as Inspector Charas
- Kathleen Freeman as Emma
- Betty Lou Gerson as Nurse Anderson
- Charles Herbert as Philippe Delambre
- Eugene Borden as Dr. Éjoute
- Torben Meyer as Gaston
Producer-director Kurt Neumann discovered the short story by George Langelaan in Playboy magazine. He showed it to Robert L. Lippert, head of 20th Century Fox's subsidiary B-movie studio Regal Pictures. The film would be made by Lippert's outfit but was released as an "official" Fox film, not under the less prestigious Regal banner.
Lippert hired James Clavell to adapt Langelaan's story on the strength of a previous sci-fi spec script at RKO which had never been produced. It would become Clavell's first filmed screenplay. Harry Spalding recalled the script was "the best first draft I ever saw, it needed very little work."
Lippert tried to cast Michael Rennie and Rick Jason in the role of André Delambre, before settling on then mostly-unknown David Hedison (billed as "Al Hedison" on-screen.) Hedison's "Fly" costume featured a twenty-pound fly's head, about which he said: "Trying to act in it was like trying to play the piano with boxing gloves on". Hedison was never happy with the makeup, but makeup artist Ben Nye remained very positive about his work, writing years later that despite doing many subsequent science fiction films, "I never did anything as sophisticated or original as The Fly".
Years later, Vincent Price recalled the cast finding some levity during the filming: "We were playing this kind of philosophical scene, and every time that little voice [of the fly] would say ‘Help me! Help me!’ we would just scream with laughter. It was terrible. It took us about 20 takes to finally get it".
Sources vary as to the budget, with one source giving it as $350,000, another as $325,000  and others as high as $495,000. The shoot lasted 18 days in total. Lippert said the budget was $480,000. Photographic effects were handled by L. B. Abbott, with makeup by Ben Nye.
The Fly was released in July 1958 by 20th Century Fox. One source claims it was on a double bill with Space Master X-7. Producer-director Kurt Neumann died only a few weeks after its premier, never realizing he had made the biggest hit of his career.
The Fly received mixed-to-positive reviews upon its initial release, with critic Ivan Butler calling it "the most ludicrous, and certainly one of the most revolting science-horror films ever perpetrated," and Carlos Clarens offering some praise for the effects but concluding that the film "collapses under the weight of many... questions". The New York Times critic Howard Thompson was more positive, writing "It does indeed contain, briefly, two of the most sickening sights one casual swatter-wielder ever beheld on the screen... Otherwise, believe it or not, "The Fly" happens to be one of the better, more restrained entries of the "shock" school... Even with the laboratory absurdities, it holds an interesting philosophy about man's tampering with the unknown." Variety was also fairly positive, writing, "One strong factor of the picture is its unusual believability. It is told, by Clavell and Neumann, as a mystery suspense story, so that it has a compelling interest aside from its macabre effects." "A first rate science-fiction-horror melodrama," declared Harrison's Reports, adding, "the action grips one's attention from the opening to the closing scenes, and is filled with suspenseful, spine-chilling situations that will keep movie-goers on the edge of their seats." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times called the film "frightening, which is naturally its primary purpose. It is also more skillful in concept and execution than the average science-fiction effort." A mixed review in The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "The early sequences of this film have great mystery and tension, and the situation is ingeniously built up. But the film soon becomes as nauseating as its bare outline suggests; even the moments which in healthier pictures might provoke a laugh through sheer absurdity offer little relief."
Modern criticism has been more uniformly positive. Cinefantastique's Steve Biodrowski declared, "the film, though hardly a masterpiece, stands in many ways above the level of B-movie science fiction common in the 1950s." Critic Steven H. Scheuer praised it as a "superior science-fiction thriller with a literate script for a change, plus good production effects and capable performances." Culture Mag writer Christopher Stewardson gave the film 3.5/5. The Fly was nominated for the 1959 Hugo Award for Best SF or Fantasy Movie at the 17th World Science Fiction Convention. It holds a 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, The film has also received four out of five stars on Allmovie.
The film was a commercial success, grossing $3 million at the domestic box office against a budget of less than $500,000, and becoming one of the biggest hits of the year for Fox studios. It earned $1.7 million in theatrical rentals. Lippert claimed it earned $4 million.
The film's financial success had the side-effect of boosting co-star Vincent Price (whose previous filmography featured only scattered forays into genre film) into a major horror star. Price himself was positive about the film, saying, decades later, "I thought THE FLY was a wonderful film – entertaining and great fun."
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "Help me! Help me!" - Nominated
Sequels and remake
The film spawned two sequels, Return of the Fly in 1959 and Curse of the Fly in 1965. There was also a remake of the same name in 1986 directed by David Cronenberg, which itself had a sequel, 1989's The Fly II.
The success of the film encouraged Lippert to hire Clavell to make his directorial debut with Five Gates to Hell (1959).
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