David Hedison as Andre Delambre
Patricia Owens as Helena Delambre
Vincent Price as François Delambre
Herbert Marshall as Inspector Charaz
Charles Herbert as Philippe Delambre
Although people remember the 1986 version of The Fly (David Cronenberg) mainly due to its stark take on the mangled blending of a human and a fly, the original classic from Kurt Neumann, who had specialized in making low-budget Sci-Fi movies, looks into this dreadful condition with a delicacy lacking in the remake. In doing so, the story treads a simple path that focuses more on the drama for the people related to the genius than on the consequences of the horror accident on the genius himself. Similar to the movies from related genres in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, The Fly is dramatic, not gory; it’s subtle, not crude; it emphasizes on human emotions, not events—and shows the trauma of such an unwanted supernatural occurrence on the family of the victim rather than the victim.
The start of the movie we see a woman crushing a man on a hydraulic press and fleeing the scene. Her name—Helena, she subsequently calls her brother-in-law, François, and admits to the murder of her husband, Andre. Inspector Charaz arrives at her house for investigation and later, during which, Helena narrates the story of her genius, yet tragic husband and his mercurial invention – a teleportation device.
Andre is a genius electrical engineer. He discovers an apparatus that could make teleportation a reality envisioning that it could end famine, poverty, whilst collapsing distance and shrinking time. Showing his newfound invention to his wife Helena, Andre works on resolving the minor errors that come along such transformational inventions. Obsessed with his work, Andre decides to up the ante and become the Guinea pig in this experiment. [plot point ahead] He succeeds the first time around, but in the second incident, a fly—by accident—flies into the teleportation device and the results are disastrous: the atoms of the fly and Andre mutate during the process. Andre comes out with a fly’s head and arm. The fly, on the other hand, carries off Andre’s head.
Of course, Helena is narrating the entire story to the Inspector and her brother-in-law, so we don’t get to see the actual occurrence per se… Precisely why, it’s safe to call the movie an attempt to elaborate on the exterior effects of such an occurrence to those around the man and not an attempt to show the internal effects of the disaster on the man himself.
The Fly has a nice, smooth flow. It keeps the story interesting, even though you don’t get into the meat of the action until about half an hour into the movie. This could be interpreted either way, but ideally, Neumann directs the scenes brilliantly keeping us engaged—anticipating with curiosity the antecedent behind the starling behavior of Helena. The suspense slowly uncloaks, and when we see the reality—a bad, guilty feeling of regret takes over forcing us to hope-against-hope that Helena is successful in her mission, and Andre could revert the mutation and become the normal genius than the hideous half-fly, half-man. The scene when Helena uncovers the head of Andre is almost disgusting and grotesque—seeing this great human have a gigantic head of a fly. Almost puke-worthy and considering the time period of the movie, this has to be amongst the most daunting images up until the movie.
What tops the daunting image of Andre with a head of a fly would probably be the fly with Andre’s head! The final utterings “Help me! Help meeee!” in the shrieky voice of the fly-with-Andre’s-head just before becoming a spider’s meal may have heaved this movie as a yesteryear classic, and a science fiction that opened the door for many such movies in the future. Some found the climax whimsical, whilst some find it creepy until today. For today’s viewer, it wouldn’t probably be as disturbing as it ought to have been for the viewers of the 50s and 60s. Yet for some, it’s still haunting and is one of those lasting imageries that remain with you even after the credits roll.
Behind all of this, the story takes a philosophical stance into the enigma of Nature. Sometimes you just cross the limit and you don’t know until it’s too late. Play with Nature, but do so at your own peril as it’s not always wise venturing into unchartered territory… That’s the main message of The Fly—sound and profound, as a drama and as a concept.
The Fly is well shot and moving. It’s unusual and raises funny questions from within existentialism to science, but at the end, it’s a masterfully rendered Sci-Fi that is both provoking and fascinating, terrible, yet magnificent.