HELP ME! PLEASE, HELP ME!
After assisting in the suicide of her scientist husband André (David ‘Al’ Hedison), Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) admits to a police inspector (Herbert Marshall) and her brother-in-law François (Vincent Price) that she did so on André’s command after his revolutionary matter transfer experiment went horrifically wrong, resulting in the creation of two mutant man-fly hybrids, which left him with the head and claw of a fly. Now, the search is on for the fly with a human head to prove she isn’t mad…
WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
Called a ‘weird masterpiece’ by The Hollywood Reporter and the ‘most originally suggestive hair-raiser since The Thing‘ by The New York Times, The Fly (which was released in the US on 16 July 1958 and in the UK on 14 September 1958) is one of the most iconic science fiction films to come out of the late-1950s – an era filled with oversized lizards, men in rubber suits and Zsa Zsa Gabor playing the queen of outer space.
It might only have two big ‘monster’ scenes – one in which Helene sees her husband’s fly-head for the first time, and the ‘Help Me!’ scene in the garden where the fly is caught in a spider’s web, but the murder mystery oozes suspense thanks to Owen’s chilly performance as the elegantly attired, emotionally distraught, Helene, who just could be making the fantastic story up, and Price, as the baffled caring brother-in-law, who brings a sense of graceful foreboding to the film’s proceedings.
Price later summed it up, thus: “I thought The Fly was a wonderful film – entertaining and great fun. It had a sense of suspense. You didn’t know what was going to happen.’
There’s also some amazing talent behind the scenes, whose faith in bringing George Langelaan’s novella to screen was key to the film’s box office success and its longevity as a bode fide classic of the genre.
The story originally appeared in the June 1957 issue of Playboy magazine, and adapted by future Shogun author James Clavell. The film’s director was Kurt Neumann, who worked on the popular Tarzan movies of the 1940s, while the glossy cinematography was the work of Karl Struss, the co-winner of the first Academy Award for FW Murnau’s Sunrise in 1927, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight and The Great Dictator. Ben Nye, the make-up artist on 1968’s The Planet of the Apes, created the proboscis-twitching fly mask, while LB Abbott, who did the electronic integrator’s eerie lighting effects, also worked on the Apes films before moving onto Irwin Allen’s sci-fi TV shows and 1970s disaster movies.
Shot on a budget of US$400,000, The Fly ended up making Fox some US$3million in box office receipts and its success resulted in two black and white quickie sequels. Given David Cronenberg’s brilliant 1986 re-telling, this Fly might not be a great film, and seem a little tame and a little old-fashioned by today’s standards, but it remains unforgettable.
VINCENT PRICE ON THE SPIDER WEB SCENE!
Price and Marshall laughed themselves silly during the film’s big climax. ‘Oh, it was terrible,’ said Price. ‘We could never quite get the lines out because every time that little voice of the fly would say “Help me! Help me! ” we would just scream with laughter. We ended up doing about 20 takes to finally get it.’
DAVID HEDISON ON THAT SCREAM!
Hedison, however, wasn’t a big fan on the way his scream ended up sounded in the final cut. ‘They chose to go with that effect – heighten my voice to make it sound like a chipmunk or something – which to me made no sense at all.‘
THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s 2014 Blu-ray release (Region A, B, C) is just the ticket to see this classic CinemaScope sci-fi, richly presented here in 1080p, in a 2.35.1 aspect ratio, and with a DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 English soundtrack, plus Dolby Digital Spanish, French and German audio. The commentary also comes with German subtitles.
There’s a hilarious commentary, recorded in 2007 for the film’s 50th anniversary release, with film historian David Del Valle, who camps it up with his anecdotes about Vincent Price, often imitating the actor’s iconic voice – which Time magazine once described as resembling ‘mildew velvet’; while David Hedison also gets into the spirit with some funny memories, especially one involving the film’s unfortunate feline, Dandelo. If you’ve seen this picture as often as I have, then this really does make for a great lazy Sunday afternoon treat.
Also included is the 1997 Biography documentary on Price, The Versatile Villain, and the making-of featurette Fly Trap: Catching a Classic, which both previously appeared on the 2007 NTSC DVD box-set that included the two sequels. A Fox Movietone News reel and unrestored theatrical trailer, both in their original aspect ratio, round off the bonuses.
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DID YOU KNOW?
Ben Nye’s mask was sold for US$500 in 1986 to Dark Crystal/Where the Wild Things Are special effects artist Lyle Conway.