The Fly (1958 film)

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The Fly
Theflyposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Produced by Kurt Neumann
Screenplay by James Clavell
Based on short story The Fly
by George Langelaan
Starring
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Karl Struss
Edited by Merrill G. White
Production
company
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • July 16, 1958 (1958-07-16) (US)[1]
Running time
94 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget between $325,000 [3] and $495,000[4]
Box office $3 million[5][6]

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.

Plot[edit]

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 and motions for Hélène to push the button. She activates the press twice - once to crush his head and once to crush his left arm.

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. 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.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Producer-director Kurt Neumann discovered the story in Playboy magazine.[7] He showed it to Robert L. Lippert, head of 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.[3][8]

Lippert hired James Clavell to adapt George Langelaan's short story on the strength of a previous sci-fi spec script at RKO which had never been produced.[3] 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."[9]

The adaptation remained largely faithful to Langelaan's story, apart from moving its setting from France to Canada, and crafting a happier ending by eliminating a suicide.[10]

Casting[edit]

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.)[3] 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".[11] Hedison was never happy with the makeup, but Makeup Director Ben Nye Sr. 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".[12]

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".[12]

Shooting[edit]

Sources vary as to the budget, with one source giving it as $350,000,[13] another as $325,000 [3] and others as high as $495,000.[4] The shoot lasted 18 days in total.[12] Lippert said the budget was $480,000.[14]

It was photographed in 20th Century Fox's trademarked CinemaScope with Color by Deluxe. A $28,000 laboratory set was constructed from army surplus equipment.[13]

Release[edit]

The Fly was released in July 1958 by 20th Century Fox. Producer-director Kurt Neumann died only a few weeks after its premier, never realizing he had made the biggest hit of his career.[3]

Reception[edit]

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".[3] 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."[15] 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."[16] "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."[17] 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."[18] 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."[19]

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."[12] 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."[12] Culture Mag writer Christopher Stewardson gave the film 3.5/5.[20] 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,[21] The film has also received four out of five stars on Allmovie.

Box Office[edit]

The film was a commercial success, grossing $3 million at the domestic box office[5] against a budget of less than $500,000,[4] and becoming one of the biggest hits of the year for Fox studios.[3][12] It earned $1.7 million in theatrical rentals.[22] Lippert claimed it earned $4 million.[14]

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."[12]

American Film Institute Lists

Sequels and remake[edit]

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.[10]

The success of the film encouraged Lippert to hire Clavell to make his directorial debut with Five Gates to Hell (1959).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Final Plans Set For Fox 'Fly' Premieres". Motion Picture Daily: p. 2. June 19, 1958. 
  2. ^ "THE FLY (X)". British Board of Film Classification. July 7, 1958. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith, Richard Harland. "The Fly (1958)". TCM (Turner Classic Movies). Retrieved 24 August 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p251
  5. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Fly. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  6. ^ "TMe: Box Office Tops from 1950-1959". Teako170.com. Retrieved 2017-01-03. 
  7. ^ Dexter, Maury (2012). Highway to Hollywood (PDF). p. 99. 
  8. ^ McGee, Mark Thomas (28 February 2014). Talk's Cheap, Action's Expensive - The Films of Robert L. Lippert. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593935580. 
  9. ^ Weaver, Tom (19 February 2003). Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews. McFarland. p. 323. 
  10. ^ a b "The Fly (1958) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. 
  11. ^ Vieira, p. 172
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Biodrowski, Steve. "The Fly (1958) – A Retrospective)". Cinefantastique. Retrieved 24 August 2017. 
  13. ^ a b Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 173. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5. 
  14. ^ a b Ryon, A. (1962, Sep 23). Third-run film king tells industry's woes. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/168195832?accountid=13902
  15. ^ Thompson, Howard (30 August 1958). "The Screen: Hair-Raiser; The Fly' Is New Bill at Local Theatres". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2017. 
  16. ^ "The Fly". Variety: p. 6. July 16, 1958. 
  17. ^ "'The Fly' with Herbert Marshall, Vincent Price, Patricia Owens and Al Hedison". Harrison's Reports: p. 112. July 12, 1958. 
  18. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (July 18, 1958). "'The Fly' Well-Done Shocker". Los Angeles Times: p. 21. 
  19. ^ "The Fly". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 25 (296): p. 113. September 1958. 
  20. ^ Stewardson, Christopher. "Review: The Fly (1958)". ourculturemag.com. Our Culture Mag. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  21. ^ "The Fly". 
  22. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p227

Bibliography[edit]

  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies, American Science Fiction Movies of the 50s, Vol. II: 1958 - 1962. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1986. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.

External links[edit]