Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Fly (1958)



The film treads a fine line between comedy and seriousness. It benefits from a good script, production values and capable performances but wastes many opportunities to become something greater than it is.

“It does indeed contain, briefly, two of the most sickening sights one casual swatter-wielder ever beheld on the screen.” 
"The most ludicrous, and certainly one of the most revolting science-horror films ever perpetrated!" 
“One of the better, more restrained entries of the "shock" school.” 
“A quiet, uncluttered and even unpretentious picture, building up almost unbearable tension by simple suggestion.” 
“It holds an interesting philosophy about man's tampering with the unknown."
“Stands in many ways above the level of B-movie science fiction common in the 1950s."

Directed by Kurt Neumann 
Produced by Kurt Neumann, Robert L. Lippert (uncredited)
Screenplay by James Clavell
Based on short story The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Karl Struss
Edited by Merrill G. White
Production company: 20th Century Fox
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Running time: 93 minutes

Budget: $325,0000 - $495,000 approx.
Box office: $3 million


Cast


David Hedison as André Delambre
Patricia Owens as Hélène Delambre
Vincent Price as François Delambre
Herbert Marshall as Inspector Charas
Kathleen Freeman as Emma
Betty Lou Gerson as Nurse Anderson
Charles Herbert as Philippe Delambre
Eugene Borden as Dr. Éjoute
Torben Meyer as Gaston



Trailer


Scientist Andre Delambre is crushed to death in a mechanical press.


WHO OR WHAT WAS RESPONSIBLE?

It has fallen to his wife Hélène to recount the events that led up to her husband’s death to both Andre’s brother, Francois Delambre and police Inspector Charas.

WHAT HAPPENED?


Read on to find out……

Spoilers follow below…..


The Fly opens with title and credits shown over a fly-screen containing a small hole. As we zoom in on the hole, a fly suddenly crawls through it and enters into frame. This is a definite message to the effect that (particularly in relation to scientific endeavours) no matter how much we may try to guard against potential dangers, there is always some weakness that can be exploited and penetrated.


Montreal, Canada:
Factory of Delambre Freres Electronics

It is late at night and we see a black cat by the name of Satan being picked up by the night watchman, Gaston. The associations with evil and bad luck will become manifest as Gaston begins his rounds.

The sound of a hydraulic press starting up draws Gaston’s attention. He is startled by the sight of a woman, who is surprised by Gaston’s presence and quickly runs away.


Gaston approaches the press and discovers to his horror that it is covered in blood. He next notices a body lying on the floor next to the press. The scene closes with Gaston screaming in horror.


Home office of Francois Delambre

A phone rings and is answered by Francois Delambre. On the other end of the line is his sister-in-law, Helene who informs him, "Francois, I've killed Andre. I need your help." At first thinking she is merely playing a rather cruel joke on him, Francois realizes that something is wrong when Helene begins to sob and beseeches him to, "Call the police and come quickly."

Before Francois leaves his office, the phone rings again. This time it is Gaston who is at the factory. After Gaston reports that a murder has taken place, Francois calls Inspector Charas who is at the men’s club of which they are both members. He reports the crime to Charas and waits for the inspector to come by his home before they proceed together to the crime scene.


CRIME SCENE:
Factory of Delambre Freres Electronics

During the inspection of the crime scene, Francois operates the press so it can be raised allowing the remains of Andre’s body to be removed. It is suddenly noticed that the press was set to zero and single strokes. Francois is then able to positively identify his brother by a war wound scar on his left leg.

CONFESSION:

At the Delambre residence Dr. Ejoute informs Francois and Charas that Helene is calm and has admitted to the crime. When they meet with Helene she calmly states, "I killed my husband, Andre Delambre, about half an hour ago in the hydraulic press shed." When asked why she replies, "I cannot answer that question."


In a strangely cool and unemotional manner she offers the inspector details pertaining to the crime while offering him coffee. What she does not offer to explain is why she committed the crime.

The bizarre nature of the crime and the subject of the film enters into our consciousness with the buzzing sound of a fly in the room. Helene gets up and searches for the source of the sound and appears relieved upon discovering a fly on a lampshade which she swats away with her hand.



Having finished questioning Helene for now, Charas arranges with the doctor to have a nurse care for Helene at the house for the time being. Charas then accompanies Francois to the lab which they discover is in a state of disorder. This is totally unlike Andre. Charas is completely baffled by the murder as, "There appears to be no motive, no reason except insanity." Charas suggests Francois look after his nephew for now.

A Question of sanity:
RESIDENCE OF ANDRE & HELENE DELAMBRE

During lunch while the nurse sits with Helene and does needlepoint, the subject of the latter’s son is brought up, but Helene pretends she does not know him. WHY? She then suddenly stops eating when she hears a fly buzzing in the room. The nurse swats at it causing Helene to become concerned. WHY? The nurse wielding a rolled-up newspaper then pursues the fly as if she were some kind of a crazed Valkyrie. When the nurse swats the fly, this proves too much for Helene who begins to hysterically sob and collapse. WHY?

Charas afterwards asks Francois, "Mr. Delambre, do you think she’s mad?" to which Francois replies, "It's obvious, isn't it?" In spite of the questions raised in the previous scene in relation to Helene’s sanity, Charas isn’t so sure. He states, "In spite of what the doctor thinks. I believe Mrs. Delambre's mind is quite clear. Even when catching flies." Helene is to be charged with murder the next day when the warrant will be issued.

A TIME TO COME CLEAN

While Francois is having dinner with his nephew, Philippe, he is asked how long flies live for. Francois doesn’t know but it is probably assumed the audience does know that flies do not live all that long. This in itself raises all sorts of concerns along with a sense of urgency in the minds of the audience who would have likely surmised by this stage what has been going on.

Philippe then declares that he found the special fly with the white head his mother was looking for. This and the fact it was in the study sets the wheels in Francois’ mind turning. Come on Francois, the audience is ahead of you! He phones up Charas, but changes his mind and hangs up.


Francois then goes to his brother's house, lies his way through the nurse and makes his way up to Helene’s room. He confronts Helene and lies to her about being in possession of the special white-headed fly and that she now has no choice but to tell him the whole story concerning the murder of Andre. Helene finally agrees but only on condition that Charas be present. She also demands Francois promise to kill the fly she believes he has.

FLASHBACK

When Charas arrives, Helene proceeds to tell her story…….
A few months earlier. André, Hélène, and their son Philippe together with the family cat, Dandelo presented a happy picture of domestic bliss. While Philippe plays, Andre and Helene go to the basement lab where Andre shows off his new equipment. Helene is sworn to secrecy and Andre then reveals to her his recent research...


  1. Take one crappy wedding present: a hideous green plate. 
  2. Place said object in a glass and metal container. 
  3. Fire up a machine causing the lab to go dark. 
  4. Have some neon lights glow gaudily. 
  5. Cause the glass and metal container to emit a bright blue light. 
  6. Zap with a flash of light. 
  7. Have the equipment power down. 
  8. Voila! - An empty container!



But that’s not all!

In the adjoining room the plate has been relocated in an identical container!

BUT HOW???

It turns out that Andre had been experimenting with matter teleportation or transportation whereby objects are transported from one place to another. In this process, an object is broken down to the atomic level and then reassembled in a receiver situated at another location.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Helene points out to Andre the mirror-imaged "Made in Japan" label stamped on the bottom of the plate!!!! Andre goes back to the drawing board and rechecks his calculations. When he is satisfied with his review of his work he decides to perform another test, this time on a newspaper. The transfer proves to be a success and never one to fail to spot another opportunity, Andre decides to perform a test using the family cat, Dandelo who has wandered in for some face time and a saucer of milk.







As with the previous inanimate object, the saucer of milk is successfully transported, but what of poor Dandelo? The echo of his plaintive meowing tells the story of his fate in which he was dispersed “into space... a stream of cat atoms...”


PS: No cats, insects, guinea-pigs or other creature human or non-human were in any harmed in the making of this film!


PLAYING GOD?

After working in the lab for weeks, Andre takes Helene out to celebrate. Upon returning home, Andre takes his wife down to the lab and shows her the improvements he has made to his equipment. He successfully transfers a bottle of champagne and then, much to his wife's disapproval, he successfully transfers a living specimen – a guinea pig. After Andre tells Helene about his earlier failure with Dandelo, Helene declares that his work with the new technology is "…frightening. It's like playing God."

Undeterred, Andre does indeed take the next step when he builds a pair of man-sized chambers.

A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH


After a month, the chubby little guinea pig is still its fine old furry squeaking self. Andre is content with life and is looking forward to having Francois come over and see his work. However, when Francois does later come over for lunch, Helene and he venture down stairs to the lab where they are confronted with a note stuck on the locked door stating, “I Am w0RkInG. DO Not DIstURb.” Francoise takes note of the uncharacteristically messy penmanship.


Philippe enters the house and informs Helene, "I caught such a funny-looking fly. You want to see it? It has a funny white head and sort of white leg." His mother, however, tells him to release it.

After learning that her husband has not touched his dinner, Helene goes down to the lab to check on Andre. A note is pushed under the door and Helene picks it up and reads:

"Helene, I've had some trouble. I've had a serious accident. But I'm not in danger at the moment, although it's a matter of life or death. It's no good calling to me or saying anything. I can't answer. I can't speak."

Helene prepares a bowl of milk laced with rum as requested by Andre. She then returns to the lab and knocks three times before being permitted by Andre to enter. She reads another note in which Andre explains that he needs her to locate a fly with a white head. Of course! Philippe had found just such fly earlier!


A SHOCKING REVELATION!


Andre stands there with a black cloth draped over his head. He also seems intent on keeping his left arm concealed in his lab coat pocket. Andre displays some disgusting table manners as slurps his milk. When he gets up, his deformed arm is revealed. It seems to have transformed into an insect-like appendage! Helene screams in shock and horror and Andre indicates that she is to leave the lab. Andre locks the door and will only communicate via typed notes and instructions.

The next morning Helene learns from reading Andre’s typed note that in a second experiment to transmit himself;
"… a fly which I did not notice was in the disintegrator with me. When we integrated again, our atoms were mixed. Now my only hope is to find the fly. I've got to go through the machine once more and pray our atoms untangle. If you can't find it, I'll have to destroy myself."

"Plees help—find fly—LOVE YOU."

Andre now has the head and left arm of a fly while the fly has a miniature version of his head and left arm. Andre still has his own mind, but just how much of his humanity will remain to him?

AN INSANE SEARCH

Now that André needs Hélène to capture the fly so he can reverse the process, Helene embarks on a rather comical, tense and almost demented search for the fly. She enlists the help of housemaid Emma and her son to find the fly. When Emma dispatches a fly with a swatter, Helene goes absolutely ballistic at her shouting, "I said catch them! Don’t kill them!"

Suddenly the white-headed fly is spotted on a lamp shade. Sllllooowwwlllyyy theyturn, step-by-step, inch-by-inch when…. Damn! it flies over to the window! Suddenly Helene has a brainwave and decides to use sugar to attract the fly. It seems to be working and Philippe succeeds in catching it in his net but no, the young idiot allows it to escape. The fly’s bid for freedom succeeds when it manages to escape to the outside world through a broken opening in the window pane.


A PRESSING DECISION

Back at the lab after the unsuccessful search, Helene reads Andre’s next note;
"If you had caught the fly, you would not be reading this. I know you will never catch it now. It's hopeless. There are things man should never experiment with. Now I must destroy everything, all evidence, even myself. No one must ever know what I discovered. It's too dangerous. I've thought of a way. It's not easy, but I need your help."


Not wanting her husband to destroy himself, Helene convinces him to use his matter transporter one more time, even if the fly is not at hand. The process does work, but without the fly the result is the same. Helene pulls the black cloth away Andre’s face and screams and recoils in horror at the sight of his face. We see what we knew all along - Andre has the head of a fly! We also see Helene from Andre’s perspective via his compound eyes.


When Helene faints from shock, Andre tenderly picks her up and places her on a couch and tries to comfort her with his “human” arm and hand. However, there is a kind of war taking place within Andre between his human and fly instincts. It is a war that he is losing as his will begins to fade and he struggles to control his fly arm and prevent it from harming his wife.


With time is running out, and while he is still able to think like a human, Andre sets about destroying the lab’s electronic equipment and burning all his notes. Helene suddenly wakes up and approaches her husband but then recoils from him when he approaches her. He puts the black cloth back over his head and uses the blackboard to write another note to Helene,
"No use now--help me--but don't come near me. Kill fly, please. Love you."


Andre leaves the lab and Helene follows him. Destination: the factory with the hydraulic press. She watches as Andre starts the press and points to the red button. (Press the RED button!)



He then places his head and arm under the press and indicates to Helene to start it operating. The press succeeds in crushing Andre’s head, but his arm remains untouched. Helene resets the press, re-positions his arm, and activates the machine a second time.



HERE AND NOW

With the ending of the flashback and Helene’s confession, Charas informs Francois that he’ll “be back at 10:00 with a warrant for her arrest on the charge of murder” and that “nurse Andersone is under strict instructions not to leave her for any reason.” He also confirms that he’s “satisfied now. She's quite insane. She won't hang." The only hope for Helene is if Francois can produce evidence of the fly.

When Francois returns to the house the next day he sits on a bench in the garden but is completely unaware that a fly is trapped in a spider's web close by. Its cries for help go unheard by Francois. 

It is 10:00 a.m. and Charas has returned armed with a warrant and an ambulance to transport Helene. When informed of her arrest, Helene asks Francois to show the inspector the fly but Francois admits to her that he never had the fly.


When Francois takes Philippe outside to shield him from witnessing his mother's arrest, he tells his uncle that he saw the fly again in a web and that “a spider’s going to get it. By the bench in the garden." Francois then grabs hold of Charas and together they go out into the garden. Next to the bench Charas and Francois see the minute human arm and head attached to a fly's body along with a ravenous spider ready to devour its prey.



The tiny trapped victim screams, “Help mee! Help mee!” while the spider pounces and engulfs it. This is too much for Charas who picks up a rock and crushes both the spider and its hapless little victim. Francois says accusingly to Charas, “You've committed murder just as much as Helene did. You killed a fly with a human head. She killed a human with a fly head.”

Believing that no-one would believe the truth, both men decide to declare André's death a suicide so that Hélène is not convicted of murder.


WHAT OF TOMORROW?

Philippe and Hélène are contentedly playing croquet in the yard when François arrives to take his nephew to the zoo. When Philippe asks about his father's death, François tells Philippe;

"He was searching for the truth. But for one instant, he was careless. The search for the truth is the most important work in the whole world and the most dangerous."

The film closes with Hélène accompanying Philippe and François out of the yard.


Full Film 
(Butchered YouTube version)



Points of Interest






The Fly was James Clavell's first filmed screenplay. His adaptation remained largely faithful to George Langelaan's story, with only the setting being moved from France to Canada, and with the inclusion of a happier ending by removing Hélène's suicide.



David Hedison who played André Delambre would later play the character Captain Lee Crane in the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.



The "Fly" costume head piece reportedly weighed twenty-pounds and according to Hedison, "Trying to act in it was like trying to play the piano with boxing gloves on."

The film took 18 days to shoot.

The set for the lab cost $28,000 to construct and consisted of army surplus equipment.


The Fly was released in 1958 on a double bill with Space Master X-7.

Director Kurt Neumann died only a few weeks after the July 1958 premier of The Fly, never to know that he had made the biggest hit of his career.

The film went a long way toward helping to lift the profile of co-star Vincent Price who went on to become a major horror star. However, I felt that his talents were somewhat wasted in The Fly. How much better would it have been to see him in a sinister role perhaps working or conspiring against the interests of either his brother Andre or his sister-in-law, Helene

The Fly was followed by two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965). It was remade in 1986 as a film of the same name by director David Cronenberg.





While viewing The Fly, the film seems to have an odd “old-world” feel about it despite its “modern” mid-20th century setting. The presence of horror gothic actor Vincent Price, the interactions between the characters as well as their attitudes and manners seem to suggest a kind of tension existing between an almost by-gone era’s traditions, attitudes and certainties and the more modern uncertainties arising from technological progress. Only when we see the technology operating do we seem to become aware of the film’s actual time period.



I feel that the story should have raised the question in the mind of the audience as to whether or not Helene was insane. We could have been kept guessing about the truth of her story throughout the film; whether or not she killed her husband because she was criminally insane; whether or not the plans for Andre’s machine existed at all and so on. An excellent opportunity seems to have been missed. Instead, we have a somewhat predictable story leading up to a rather lame formulaic ending. I’d rather be kept guessing.



André’s matter transporter or “disintegrator-integrator” device is like a forerunner to the transporter system used in the Star Trek series. Now we can understand why Bones always grumbled about having his atoms scattered all about the universe when he was required to transport down to a planet!

Andre working on his unholy experiment in his basement lab recalls to our minds the classic gothic horror films featuring the mad scientist on a quest for knowledge oblivious to the consequences that may arise both to himself and to those around him. There’s always the next step to take…….



Scientific advancement and progress can seem to be frightening if it is not fully understood. If the implications and potential consequences are not taken into account before embarking on a technological and scientific endeavour, it can also have the appearance in many peoples’ minds of meddling in affairs best left in the hands of a deity.

Andre as a scientist had no ill-intent. He simply developed a machine that he hoped would benefit humanity in terms of being able to improve systems of transporting much needed goods around the world instantly. He wasn’t attempting to transgress any laws set down by some god. In fact, he was willing to sacrifice himself in the pursuit of scientific truth. According to his brother, “Andre believed in the sacredness of life…(and) wouldn't harm anything... not even a fly.”


Matter Transportation


 By Konrad Summers
By Konrad Summers - Originally posted to Flickr as Star Trek - Enterprise D Transporter, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7247765

It may one day be possible to realize the development of a Star Trek-style of matter transportation. The laws of physics don’t rule out the possibility of teleportation of large inanimate objects as well as living human beings.

It has been reported that experiments have successfully been performed in which an atom had been transported three metres with 100% accuracy.

In an experiment, three entangled particles consisting of a nitrogen atom locked in a diamond crystal and two electrons were used to transfer spin information a distance of three metres.

Four possible states were transmitted, each corresponding to a 'qubit.'

We’re used to thinking of a digital ‘bit’ of information as in a computer where each 'bit' of information represents one of two values: zero or one.

A ‘qubit’ is the quantum equivalent of a digital 'bit' but it can represent a zero, a one, or a 'superposition' of both states at the same time.


What is being teleported is the state of a particle. Since each of us is basically a collection of atoms arranged in a particular way, then it should be possible for us to be teleported from one place to another.


FLY FACT FILE




  • True flies are insects of the order Diptera, from the Greek δι- di- "two", and πτερόν pteron "wings."
  • There are over 100,000 species of flies on earth.
  • A female housefly can lay up to 600 eggs in a lifetime.
  • Flies lay their eggs on fruit, food, other animals and even rotting flesh. 
  • Their larvae are known as maggots. 
  • House flies taste with their feet, which are 10 million times more sensitive to sugar than the human tongue!
  • Flies don't have teeth, but this doesn’t stop them feasting on manure. They also love wet or decaying matter – YUM! 
  • Their mouths absorb food much like a sponge. 
  • Their tongues are shaped like straws which allows them to suck up their food.
  • Flies can only eat liquids and are able to turn many solid foods into a liquid by spitting or vomiting on it. 
  • Not surprisingly flies carry disease.
  • The common housefly lives for about 21 - 28 days and grow to 0.6 – 0.7 cm long.






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©Chris Christopoulos 2018