“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
That line is actually not from the 1958 version of The Fly but the 1986 remake, itself iconic in its own unique way. “Help me. Please, help me.” on the other hand is from the film’s still freaky conclusion.
Our film opens with a night watchman at the Science Factory discovering Chief Scientist Andre Delambre crushed under a machine press, head and arm, and his wife Helene fleeing the scene. Helene calls her brother-in-law Francois to confess, and tells him to call the police, and with some goading, we get our story in flashback.
It’s remarkable how good this film is, for all its charmingly dated view on society (and less charmingly dated special effects). And despite its French-Canadian-ness. The kids did not pick up on the fact that it was set in French-Canadia until I pointed out all the names and that the Inspector looked like Captain Renault. (In fairness to the kids, though, this was supposedly taking place in winter and spring, but not a flake of snow was to be found and the lawn was green and lush in March.)
This is squarely ’50s sci-fi, not just because killer insect but because Delambre is an all-things-are-possible-with-science kind of mad scientist. He’s not even a mad scientist, really. He’s obsessive and perfectionist, though the movie itself is a cautionary tale about what happens when ya get sloppy. Also very ’50s: It takes a remarkably “don’t tamper in God’s domain” attitude, even though one wouldn’t think, necessarily, that teleportation would fall into the category of God’s domain (I mean, insofar as anything could be outside of God’s domain).
I suppose it’s because the nature of the…erm…error…is so horrifying!
The supportive wife who does everything her husband asks, even at a terrible cost to herself (and their son), is something you don’t see much these days. It creates an unusual dynamic that is missing from almost every recent film. It’s an element you see in modern religious films, and occasional secular-but-still-faith-based-films like Field of Dreams. You also don’t get this kind of indulgence from the police these days: The Inspector is very reluctant to arrest the wife, on the basis of her possible insanity or some other mitigating factor.
By the way, if you’re over 30 and you saw this movie on TV as a kid, you really didn’t see it. The shocks, which are especially shocking since the whole movie is so sedate and civilized, just don’t translate to small screen. It’s a situation where seeing it on TV just sorta ruins things.
The Fly was basically the start of Vincent Price’s second career—his successful career as a horror lead—at this point, and he’s sort of a necessary but minor character. He’s really doing the same sort of blandly charming thing that didn’t make him a leading man in the ’40s. He would follow this up with The House on Haunted Hill, Return of the Fly and, significantly, Roger Corman’s “Poe Cycle”, cementing his status as a horror icon.
The other icon in this film, though you may not catch it, is Betty Lou Gerson, who plays the nurse. Gerson supplied the voice for Cruella De Ville in 101 Dalmations. (I recognized her name but couldn’t pin down her voice.)
Definitely worth seeing.