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FLY, THE(director: Kurt Neumann; screenwriters: James Clavell/based on the short story by George Langelaan; cinematographer: Karl Struss; editor: Merrill G. White; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Patricia Owens (Helene Delambre), Vincent Price (Francois Delambre), Al Hedison (Andre Delambre), Herbert Marshall (Inspector Charas), Charles Herbert (Philippe Delambre), Kathleen Freeman (Emma, The Cook), Betty Lou Gerson (Nurse Andersone); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kurt Neumann; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1958)
“There’s something truly fly about this unparalleled fly story that zaps you right in the old guts.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Fly is the film that made Vincent Price a horror film star because of its critical and box office success, even though his performance here is understated and much less noteworthy than in his flamboyant roles. Director Kurt Neumann (“Tarzan and the Amazons”/”Rocketship X-M”/”Son of Ali Baba”) keeps things tense, restrained and appealing. He bases it on the short story by George Langelaan and it’s scripted by James Clavell, who up until his death in 1994 was better known as the author of best-selling Asian themed novels like Tai-Pan (1966) and Shogun (1976).

This entertaining fantasy film has become a popular cult classic, but also a film that has been often held up to ridicule and scorn. It manages to draw a fine line between black humor and the taking of its absurd tale seriously. That it plays it straight with mock seriousness becomes both the film’s strength and weakness. It asks us to believe in something that is ludicrous, but is winsome because it’s so unpretentious and the characters are all good joes just trying to make the world a better place to live in that we unquestionably root for them.

Warning: spoilers throughout review.

The film opens in Montreal as Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) calls her brilliant scientist husband Andre’s (Al Hedison) kindly businessman brother Francois (Vincent Price) to tell him that she has just killed Andre by crushing him on an hydraulic press, in the factory the brothers are partners in. Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) handles the case and after a few days Helene tells her incredible story of why she murdered the husband she loved when there were no marital problems. Andre was conducting an experiment in his basement lab with a machine he invented that enables humans to travel while “disintegrated” anywhere in space at the speed of light. He first tested it on a saucer and then on a newspaper and then with bad results on his family cat Dandelo. Thinking he got everything right, he tries it on himself but unfortunately an undetected fly got into the machine chamber during the experiment and there was a foul-up of the atom transfer. Andre now has the head and the claw of a fly; the fly has the white head of a man and a human’s arm instead of one of its claws. Clad in a black hood to cover his fly head and unable to speak, Andre communicates with Helene through written notes. He tells Helene his only hope is to find the white-headed fly and try another transmission experiment. When the fly proves elusive, Andre comes up with the suicide idea that will keep his experiment a secret so others won’t be foolish enough to try to mess with nature in such a daring way.

The inspector has a problem believing this story and is about to arrest her for murder, until Helene’s young son Philippe (Charles Herbert) points out such a fly exists in their garden and is stuck in a spider’s web. When the inspector and Francois approach it, the fly cries out “Help me, help me!” just before an insect devours it.

There’s something truly fly about this unparalleled fly story that zaps you right in the old guts.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”