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Turner Classic Movies
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Fly, The - 1958
Written by A.J. Hakari   

the_fly_poster_long220.jpgMad science is one of modern horror's building blocks. It was Frankenstein who unleashed his creature upon the world; Dr. Moreau who blurred man and beast; and Fu Manchu who served as one of the earliest screen baddies. This is a well the genre frequently returns to giving the world countless creepy tales. Chief among them is the 1958 The Fly, a sci-fi classic whose '80s remake some would argue is even greater (though undoubtedly gorier). But it was the original, starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, and the incomparable Vincent Price, whose story and imagery were so memorable they remain an integral element of fantasy even five decades down the road.

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Patricia Owens

The Fly opens upon a grisly sight, the apparent murder of scientist Andre Delambre. As his brother Francois (Price) attempts to pick up the pieces, the film flashes back to a couple weeks prior, when Andre (Hedison, under the curious nom de guerre Al) was in decidedly improved spirits. A doting father and loving husband, Andre tends to bury himself in his inventions, the latest of which could very well change the world. He's come upon a way of instantaneously teleporting objects, from newspaper to (save for an incident with the family cat) animals. But disaster strikes when Andre tests the process on himself, which goes horribly wrong when a housefly is thrown into the mix. The results are nothing short of terrifying, leaving Andre's wife Helene (Owens) to save her spouse from succumbing to the monster within.

vp-fly245.jpgOne could argue that sci-fi is the genre most vulnerable to camp. It's easy to insult the viewer's intelligence when you're making things up as you go, so some effort is necessary to reign in the fantastic. All things considered, The Fly is remarkably restrained, especially given the subject matter. Foremost, it's a human story, a tragedy in which the hero is blinded by the beacon of scientific discovery. A good man with the best of intentions, Andre's downfall is due to rushing into his research and starting a tiff with Mother Nature. Mary Shelley may have beat it to the punch, but The Fly's themes are handled with more respect than the average creature feature. That said, melodrama has a habit of eeking its way into the story, and in this film there's no end to the giggles when Owens flails around in search of the titular insect.

The Fly's sci-fi aspect never really kicks in until it's about an hour in. You don't need to be Jeff Goldblum to figure out where the story ends or how to piece together the central "mystery."  The movie  wastes a lot of time chasing its own tail, to the point that you'd rather fast-forward to the parts any horror fan worth their salt knows by heart. Such scenes don't disappoint, thanks to both the nifty special effects and Hedison's sympathetic performance. But while a nice thought, the human drama is too often reminiscent of a soap opera. Someone's either crying or reciting a monologue, which can be a lot to endure if anthropmorphic bugs are your game. The cast is fairly underutilized, too; Owens goes through more tissue boxes than a 24-hour marathon of a romance, and Price, the master of twisted character acting, is stuck with a worried expression on his kisser.

The Fly deserves to be seen, even if for posterity's sake. Its mark on science fiction is indelible indeed, a pop culture influence very few can even hope to achieve. As a film, it's fairly bland but elegantly presented and even quite moody on occasion. David Cronenberg took The Fly (1986) to a new, stomach-churning level, but there's nothing like the original to represent the golden age of B-movies at its most ambitious.

Director: Kurt Neumann

Writer: James Clavell (story by George Langelaan)

Cast: David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman

Rating: No MPAA Rating (some scary images)

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Run Time: 94 minutes

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Format: Color, widescreen

Photo credits: 20th Century Fox

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