ⓘ The Fly (1958 film)


ⓘ The Fly (1958 film)

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, which produces 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.


1. Plot

In Montreal, Quebec, Canada, scientist Andre Delambre Al Hedison is found dead with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press. Although his wife Helene 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. Andres brother, François Vincent Price, lies and says he caught the white-headed fly; thinking he knows the truth, Helene explains the circumstances surrounding Andres death.

In flashback, Andre, Helene, and their son Philippe Charles Herbert are a happy family. Andre 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 familys 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, Helene, worried because Andre has not come up from the basement lab for a couple of days, goes down to find Andre with a black cloth over his head and a strange deformity on his left hand. Communicating with typed notes only, Andre tells Helene 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.

Andre needs Helene to capture the fly so he can reverse the process. Although she expends great effort in her search, she cannot find it and Andres will begins to fade as the flys instincts take over his brain. Time is running out, and while Andre can still think like a human, he smashes the equipment, burns his notes, and leads Helene to the factory. When they arrive, he sets the hydraulic press, puts his head and arm under, and motions for Helene to push the button. Andres 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 Helene insane and guilty of murder. As they are about to haul her away, Philippe tells François hes 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, with both Andres head and arm, trapped in the web as Phillippe told them. 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 Andres death a suicide so that Helene is not convicted of murder. In the end, Helene, François, and Philippe resume their daily lives. Sometime later, Philippe and Helene are playing croquet in the yard. François arrives to take his nephew to the zoo. In reply to his nephews query about his fathers 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 Helene escorting her son and François out of the yard.


2.1. Production Development

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 Foxs subsidiary B-movie studio Regal Pictures. The film would be made by Lipperts outfit but was released as an "official" Fox film, not under the less prestigious Regal banner.

Lippert hired James Clavell to adapt Langelaans story on the strength of a previous sci-fi spec script at RKO which had never been produced. It would become Clavells first filmed screenplay. Harry Spalding recalled the script was "the best first draft I ever saw, it needed very little work."

The adaptation remained largely faithful to Langelaans short story, apart from moving its setting from France to Canada, and crafting a happier ending by eliminating a suicide.


2.2. Production Casting

Lippert tried to cast Michael Rennie and Rick Jason in the role of Andre Delambre, before settling on then mostly-unknown David Hedison billed as "Al Hedison" on-screen. Hedisons "Fly" costume featured a twenty-pound flys 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 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".


2.3. Production Shooting

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.

It was photographed in 20th Century Foxs trademarked CinemaScope with Color by Deluxe. A $28.000 laboratory set was constructed from army surplus equipment.


2.4. Production Release

The Fly was released in July 1958 by 20th Century Fox. Producer-director Kurt Neumann died only a few weeks after its premiere, never realizing he had made the biggest hit of his career. One source claims it was on a double bill with Space Master X-7.


3. Reception

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 mans 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 Harrisons Reports, adding, "the action grips ones 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. Cinefantastiques 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." 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.


3.1. Reception Box office

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 films 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

  • "Help me! Help me!" - Nominated
  • AFIs 100 Years.100 Movie Quotes
  • AFIs 100 Years.100 Thrills - Nominated

4. 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, 1989s The Fly II.

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