Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fly (1958)

Starring Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison
Directed by Kurt Neumann

*Spoilers Ahead*

The film opens with a night watchman witnessing Helene (Patricia Owens) flee from a hydraulic press that has crushed the body of her husband Andre (David Hedison). She confesses to the crime of murder to the police, but something is strange, and her brother-in-law, Francois (Vincent Price), is called in to aid the investigation and we soon learn the horrible truth: Andre has been turned into a half-fly, half-man. There is intrigue with this suspenseful mystery set up as the story slowly comes together. However, I couldn't help but notice something about this film that I'd seen before. It seems that high concept science fiction movies from the fifties they don't seem to have dialogue so much as they feel like the actors are just reading the outline for the story. Vincent Price sounds like he's reading the back of a book jacket and feels rather starchy but manages to make it work with his weighty theatrical presence, giving his character unique motion and diction to make his emotional turmoil seem genuine. With the exception of Patricia Owens, he seemed to be the only "real" person in this movie.

Patricia Owens serves as the emotional centerpiece of the film. She is frightened by her husband's condition but also shows determination in her quest to find the fly need to save his life, leading to an emotional drain that feels very authentic and helps us to understand the "blank" state we find her in at the beginning. Unfortunately, the only time we see Andre is when he is in the lab explaining the teleportation device during flashbacks while Vincent Price takes up most of the screen time and sticks better in our minds. We see Andre's passion to perfect the device, but he makes careless mistakes in testing without pause, question or morals. This doesn't seem in anyway natural or rational, even within the reality we are presented. If Andre had been given some reason for rushing his tests or why he choose to test it on himself, maybe I'd have more sympathy for him. As a result there really isn't any connection made between Andre and The Fly since his transformation occurs off screen. Andre can't talk as The Fly and decides go with the "Star Trek" route of communication (The famed "knock once for yes, twice for no") as well as using his typewriter to tell Helene "I'm losing control". Can you really be losing control if you can actually type it out? Body language isn't used to much of an advantage as Andre just sort of walks around the lab hiding under his hood all the while. The only time he seem sincere and emotional is when he is writing on the chalkboard and his sloppy handwriting shows a loss of

The climax is what makes it all worth it though when we see the Andre-Fly stuck in a spider's web. The shot of his face on the fly body is one of the greatest composite shots I have ever seen in a movie. The shot is cleverly cut between shots of an actor in full makeup plasted with an expression of terror. The same of true of the predatory spider; a model mixed with live action shots that build the tension and gives the iconic "Help Me!" scream delivers a horrifying chill while I hold my breath in anticipation, waiting for the inspector to crush the web at the final second. Brilliantly frightening and suspenseful.

Unfortunately there is a tacked on coda in the style of "Bambi", were we get Vincent Price giving Andre's son Phillipe some hackneyed speech about how "Science Is Bad" and "Death isn't a Big Deal." What a load! It really dulls the dramatic tension we had going. Just imagine the impression that would have been left if Vincent Price's "You're as guilty of murder as her", had been the last line of the movie.

Strong acting by two thirds of the headline cast and emphasis on the human element of the monster buoy up what could have easily been just another a typical period monster movie. Suspense and mystery are also key players and serve as an excellent frame for the story, especially with Patricia Owen's detective movie style of flashback narration. Overall there is a very charming "stage play" feel to the whole thing, particularly with the acting and the appearance of the sets.

Final Score:
Three and a half out of Five: Above Average.

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