Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 29, 1958
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Written by James Clavell, from a short story by George Langelaan
Cast: David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman, Charles Herbert, Betty Lou Gerson, Eugene Borden, Torben Meyer, Arthur Dulac, Harry Carter
It says it right there on the film’s one-sheet poster: For your own good we urge you to not see it alone! Well, nobody alerted me to that particular head’s up when I was nine years old, and sitting down to this science fiction classic for the first time. Nooo, I was on my own when I watched it one evening on our little black-and-white set, right before bedtime, and wound up suffering the most frightening nightmare I’ve ever had in my life. And for those of you who’ve seen The Fly, you know exactly which scene caused me such a harrowing ordeal.
I’m happy to report that there were no nightmares this time around, but decades later the film proved to be just as chilling as it was before, with David Hedison playing a scientist who’s created a device that can transfer solid objects—through disintegration and then reintegration of atoms—from one location to another. In other words, a matter transporter. Which, if all goes according to plan, will eliminate the global necessity of traveling by automobile, railway, airline, or even spacecraft. But first, there are a few kinks that need to be ironed out: the backwards printing on that ashtray for one, and the fact that the family cat gave the gizmo a spin, and never came back.
The movie starts off with a bang: a night watchman at an electronics plant discovers Hedison’s wife, played by Patricia Owens, at the controls of a massive hydraulic machine press, which she’s just used to crush her husband’s head and left arm to a bloody pulp (a gruesome little moment, by the way). Brother-in-law Vincent Price and police inspector Herbert Marshall arrive on the scene, and though Owens admits to the killing, she refuses to divulge her reasons why. Soon, however, she’s convinced to tell her story, and in flashback we find out exactly what happened, and why she seems anxious to find and capture a white-headed housefly.
To me, The Fly is similar in style to two other science fiction favorites of mine from the 1950s, Them! and The War of the Worlds. All three featured fantastic stories played seriously by straight-faced actors, and were helmed by relatively unknown directors who knew what they were doing, and who held your interest with a minimum of flash and a multitude of smarts. German-born Kurt Neumann was at the reigns here, keeping it real with believable sets and an atmosphere of scientific study, taking the time to set up an exciting second half, and giving the film a great CinemaScope look. Of his sci-fi projects of the ’50s, this one is by far the best.
The acting was fine all around, with Hedison convincing as the electrical engineer and family man whose experiments got a bit out of control, and who first and foremost wanted to keep his wife and child safe from what he was about to become. Veteran actors Price and Marshall contributed by giving the film a layer of skilled credibility, and helped keep the proceedings from becoming silly or overboard; Owens, as the brave wife, did the same, and never made you feel that she was weak or ready for a nervous breakdown (which you couldn’t blame her for, considering). There were no campy portrayals here; like I mentioned, everyone played it straight and serious.
And just when you thought the story was wrapping up, and our female lead was being labeled insane and carted away, we had…the ending. The unbelievable, iconic Help meeeee! wrap-up that never fails to send chills down countless spines, and which woke me from a peaceful sleep screaming in sweat-drenched pajamas so many years ago, haunting my unsuspecting dreams forever. Earlier, there was a shocking reveal where Hedison had the covering yanked off his less-than-human head, but for pure unhinged terror, the ‘pale thing in the web’ coda definitely takes the cake.
Along with the tension and scares, there was also a surprising amount of sadness and heartbreak, especially when Hedison struggled to scrawl Love you to his wife on a chalkboard, while fighting to keep control of his fading memory; one of the most touching moments you’ll ever see in a science fiction or horror film (or any film, for that matter). But in the grand scheme of things, it is still a 1950s monster movie, and a fun one at that; a definite must-see if you’re a follower of well-made creature features. And a word of advice: if this is a first-time viewing, you may want to think twice about watching it alone. Especially if you’re only nine years old. (8/10)