(1958) dir. Kurt Neumann
I hadn’t seen the original The Fly in so many years that I’d forgotten that it was in color. And that’s odd because it has a very nice lustre to the color, and it’s most shocking and effective moments are brightly colorful.
There are the big movie monsters, like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), Gojira (1954), and and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The Fly is an iconic image itself, campy, perhaps, but still a modern short-hand for a certain type of scenario. And even though David Cronenberg revived the scenario of the transportation device gone-wrong, looking at a man in a lab coat with the head and hand of a fly is pretty striking. Not to mention the fly with the head and hand of a man, caught by the spider, crying in a little peewee voice, “Help me! Help Me!”
Again, it had been so long since I’d seen the film, and though I know the overall story pretty well, about the scientist who transports himself and accidently co-transports a fly (a literal “fly in the ointment”), ending up crossed up with a bug and going mad, there was a lot that struck me as surprises.
The production values for one thing. Unlike much of the horror genre, the production values of The Fly are quite striking. The cinematography by Karl Struss is a lush pallette of hues and colors, with tracking shots, and camera movement. The film itself plays out initially like a murder mystery. And the film builds itself to the unveiling of the creature’s head to such a striking and powerful reaction by actress Patricia Owens (whose beautiful red hair lights up the screen) in the classic “fly-vision” compound fly-eye view of her screaming face. And the fly head itself, with its twitching protrusions. For that moment alone, it’s worth the watch. It’s almost as powerful as Psycho (1960) would be.
I vaguely remembered that there was a sequel or two, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965), so popular was this film in its day. I’ve queued those babies up, as I did the Cronenberg re-make/re-envisioning and its subsequent sequel. I’m going a little fly-crazy.
But it’s been interesting going back to the “classics”. I mean, as much as I feel like I know them all, have seen them many times over the years, in particular in childhood, I still see them pretty afresh. I’ve had for some while a concept that any film that I have seen, or book that I’ve read, or many of any things, if it’s been 10 years since I’ve encountered it, then I need to recognize that I may see it very differently, may have a different opinion, may just encounter it in an utterly different realm of experience.
What is interesting about this film about science gone awry is that the movie’s message, delivered at the end of the film by the inimitable Vincent Price is that science and the pursuit of knowledge is the most important pursuit in the world, and while venturing into the unknown may cost lives as it is sought, ultimately, the price (no pun intended) is worth it. In other words, the mad science is justified, not feared, as many sci-fi tropes make science gone mad to equate to man trying to play God, and that being a bad thing. The Fly ennobles science, even in its failures. Which seems progressive.