The Fly (1958)
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The Fly Blu-ray Review
If you, your father or even your grandfather were among those who "only read Playboy for the articles", one of those might have been George Langelaan's short story "The Fly", which appeared in Hef's June 1957 issue. According to the great commentary included on this Blu-ray, the story was almost immediately optioned by Fox for film treatment, and perhaps rather incredibly James Clavell ( The Great Escape, Shogun) was hired to write the screenplay. Clavell has some serious issues to confront, including an unwieldy structure where the gist of the story was told in flashback and the suicide of the heroine while incarcerated in a mental institution.
Clavell wisely jettisoned the suicide angle, and only kept the threat of institutionalization as a motivating factor to get Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) to spill the beans about why she, according to her own confession to her brother- in- law Francois (Vincent Price), killed her scientist husband (and Francois' brother) Andre (David Hedison, then still billed as Al Hedison). The Fly still has a rather unwieldy structure—at least by current day horror film standards—with a rather slowly unfolding tale that doesn't even get into the main flashback sequence until around the half hour mark.
Helene at that point launches into a story both for Francois and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall), the policeman called to investigate the case. The flashback recounts the efforts of Andre to create a transporter device that can dissolve the atoms of objects and then reassemble in a new location (think "Beam me up, Scotty", though considerably more retro, this being 1958 and all). Andre starts with inanimate objects but soon graduates to animals, including the family cat, with at least some of his experiments not going exactly the way he had hoped. But when he is finally convinced that the technology is safe, he enlarges the units to two chambers resembling phone booths and decides to try transporting himself. Unfortunately a common house fly invades the chamber at the same time as Andre and the two species' atoms are interwoven, leaving David with the head and arm of a fly and the tiny fly receiving Andre's in return.
What may strike younger horror fans as odd about The Fly is how deliberately slow and measured it is. Even after the flashback begins at around the half hour mark, it's well over another half hour until the fly is revealed, and then what turns out to be the most disturbing image of the entire film doesn't come into play until the very closing moments. This is obviously a manifestly different technique than current day horror offerings, which tend to exploit big scares right out of the gate and then continue to offer (often manufactured) frights every few minutes for the rest of the films running time. The Fly may therefore strike some as weirdly "calm" for a putative horror outing, but that ignores the very palpable sense of dread which accrues once Andre initially refuses to let his wife or brother see him, and who upon relenting (to his wife, anyway) shrouds his head under a cloth and keeps his hand buried in his overcoat, Napoleon style.
The film is bolstered by some excellent performances. Both Price and Marshall bring a bit of old school gravitas to this outing (this was several years before Price became more fully associated with the horror genre). Hedison also does a really remarkable job in the last third or so of the film, where he's consigned to emoting only with his body, with his head completely hidden under a black cloth. But the film really belongs to Patricia Owens. Owens never really got her full due as an actress, despite having made scores of motion pictures and many television appearances. Though her role here is firmly in the "June Cleaver" mold of the perfect wife and mother, always clad in a stylish dress and usually with a string of pearls adorning her neck, she brings a very believable intensity to the part. Helene wavers back and forth between hysteria and determination, and Owens captures it all in one of the most winning performances in fifties horror.
The Fly is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Fox has continually been one of the leaders in maintaining and restoring their deep catalog in high definition, and that trend continues with this largely impeccable presentation of a CinemaScope classic. It's a bit odd that Fox continues to license some of its pre-existing HD masters when it's obviously able to bring these titles out so well themselves, usually with some nice bonus features accompanying the main film as well. Just a cursory glance at the clips from The Fly included on the older Fly Trap supplemental feature shows just how nicely the elements have been spruced up for this release. The Fly's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 mix is similarly excellent, boasting at times really inventive separation and offering excellent fidelity and some surprisingly wide dynamic range. Dialogue is cleanly presented and is often quite directional, and the film's great foley effects and score are also represented very well. There are a number of fantastic little moments here, including the "disappearance" of the family cat, and, late in the film, that high frequency squeal for help that is unforgettable once it's been heard.
- Commentary with Actor David Hedison and Film Historian David Del Valle. This is a fantastically charming and often quite funny commentary. Del Valle is "colorful" (as they say), bantering quite winningly with Hedison. Hedison has some great memories of the shoot, but rather interestingly, he talks about wanting to have the transformation take place in phases, somewhat similar to the Cronenberg remake.
- Biography: Vincent Price is a typically fine Biography overview of the actor's life and career.
- Fly Trap: Catching a Classic is a fun little piece concentrating on three "original" Fly movies. It's notable how brown and ugly the elements of The Fly appear in this featurette compared to the actual feature presentation on the Blu-ray.
- Fox Movietone News recounts the premiere of the film in San Francisco, which featured several "guest monsters" (more than a few of them associated with Universal).
- Theatrical Trailer
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