Help Meeeee! Help Meeeeeee!
When I reviewed the remake of The Fly, I found myself extremely disappointed. Not in the movie or in the review, but at something that was missing from the movie. Before seeing it, I knew only the basic premise and one simple line that came to represent the movie in only two words: Help me. And when I watched the remake, I was waiting for that line to show up throughout the entire movie, only to be extremely saddened when it never came. When I did some research, I found that the line was actually from the original 1958 version of The Fly, and was not included (at least not in the goofy way that is always parodied) in the remake. This only cemented the idea with me that I needed to see the original. And, since it is also available on Netflix streaming, it took me no time to get myself satisfied. Amazing how often the internet is able to help me satisfy myself immediately, isn’t it? … Anyways, today’s movie is the original version of The Fly, written by James Clavell, directed by Kurt Neumann, and starring Patricia Owens, David Hedison, Vincent Price, Charles Herbert, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman, and Betty Lou Gerson.
Scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison), and the paste that used to be his head and arm, are found inside a hydraulic press, with his wife Helene (Patricia Owens) standing at the controls. She confesses to the murder, but refuses to provide any reason for it. The loss of her husband has been replaced with a new fascination with flies. They instantly capture her attention, but she’s always disappointed when she inevitably finds out that their head and arms are not white. So, obviously, we all assume she’s nuts. Eventually, her son Phillipe (Charles Herbert) lets slip to Andre’s brother Francois (Vincent Price) that Helene told him to capture the white headed fly and bring it to her, but never why. Confronted with this information, Helene confesses what actually happened to Andre to Francois and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall). Andre had been working on a matter teleporter, but had only been able to transport inanimate objects, though they would be a little off, like when he teleported a plate and the “Made in Japan” logo appeared like a mirror image when it came through. As he tries to fix it, he accidentally disintegrates the family’s cat, which can somehow still meow when turned into atoms. Eventually, he safely transports a gerbil into Richard Gere’s butt. And then, without explanation, Joe locks himself in his lab and won’t receive visitors. Eventually, he tells Helene through notes passed under the door that he had an accident and can’t speak, but he desperately needs her to locate and capture a fly with a white head and arms. Turns out, Andre tried to teleport himself but there was a fly in the machine. He came through on the other side, his head and arm switched with the fly’s own. And, unless Helene can catch the fly so he can fix it, he needs her to kill him. I wonder how this will turn out …
I really cannot say what has made this movie such an enduring classic. Very little of this movie worked for me. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve already seen the remake, and most of what they changed for that movie made a lot more sense to me and made itself more interesting. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed the setup of the movie more had I not made the mistake of reading the basic premise before watching the movie, but really having any idea about the movie kind of spoils that. You don’t need much more information than the title of the movie to allow the movie to spoil itself. You know it’s called the fly, by this point you probably know that they get their DNA mixed together, and the movie starts at the end, with Helene apparently killing Andre. After that, the rest of the story just falls into place. It’s interesting enough, but kills all chances of surprise with the way it’s edited. On a positive note, this movie did in fact feature the line I was looking for. And, just to cement my reasoning to see the movie based on that quote, it came up coincidentally in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie I was watching as I’m writing this very review. I’m pretty sure they use it almost every time there’s a bug in distress. ::SPOILER ALERT:: The quote comes up at the very end of the movie when, after Andre is already dead, they finally find the fly that has his head and arms on it. It’s trapped in the web of a spider, seconds from being devoured, and it’s screaming in a tiny, high pitched voice, “Help meeeeee. Help meeeee.” It looks goofy and was more comical than anything else, but at least I got to hear the quote and see the movie it was originally from. ::END SPOILERS::
The look must be given some forgiveness because it came out in 1958, but it didn’t really work for me either. The fly was basically just a real fly with nail polish on its head, the human fly looked a little like a fly, but was more cute than scary, and the science-y stuff was what you would expect out of a 50’s movie. Their policy was mainly just to get as many flashing lights and multicolored neon tubes, and play some Theremin noises. I don’t know how a reel to reel player would help a teleportation machine, but they had their idea for how it would happen, I guess. But the looks of the two flies got on my nerves, not for the production of them, but for the idea of them. In the remake of the movie, they were combined on a cellular level by the machine. This seems somehow logical. In the original, the fly and the scientist exchange heads and one arm. This would be fine if the movie ended right at this point because the fly with the giant head and arm and the human with a tiny and nearly invisible head and arm would both die immediately, solving the problem. Instead of going that way, the machine decided that the basic shape and design of the head was the important part to duplicate, not so much the size. And with their brains being exchanged as well, it probably wouldn’t have fit in the head of the fly. I never really got behind the idea of the fly’s instincts taking over Andre either, mainly because it only seemed to manifest itself as the fly fucking with the rest of him, like grabbing his arm when he was trying to type. I half expected it to take his arm and start doing the whole “Quit hitting yourself” thing to him.
I can’t really say I cared for any of the performances in this movie either. The first thing that started getting on my nerves was that they were supposed to be in France, and every character was supposed to be French, but all they could really muster was one word a piece in French. Once every 20 minutes or so, a character would say something like, “That is terrible!” but with terrible being pronounced as it would be in French, like teh-ree-blay. I don’t need them to speak a lot in French, but you can also not bother having them speak French at all. And you can just have the movie not be set in France because they never really left the house of the scientist anyway. Patricia Owens had to do most of the carrying of this movie, but never really seemed that up to the task. I suppose it wasn’t really her fault, but she didn’t impress. This movie made me realize that every actress had the exact same crying technique. To cry, you need only to drape yourself sideways over something like a desk or a bannister, bury your face in crook of your arm, and make weeping noises. Every girl does this exact thing when crying in these old movies. And Owens does it around three times in this movie alone. Also, as this movie is kind of a horror movie, you know that she’ll have to scream. Her scream sounded really weird, and probably a few octaves deeper than it should have. She also annoyed me when she grabbed the fly net away from her son to try to catch the fly because he had already caught half a jar full of flies and she was unable to catch one. Maybe you should leave it to the pro, honey. This is going to sound weird, but I actually liked the way David Hedison acted when he was the fly, even though he couldn’t speak or even show his face. He didn’t do anything impressive when he had his face, so they covered it up with a blanket and said that it looked like fly under there. But they worked out a method of communication for him involving typing, writing on a chalkboard, and knocking on a desk for yes and no. But his body language was well-executed so that he could still act even without the use of his face. Even Vincent Price didn’t impress me in this movie. I don’t think this is the type of movie that he really shined in. It’s kind of a horror movie, but he wasn’t trying to be spooky in it. From what I’ve gathered about him, that’s what he’s best at. In this one, he just had to be really concerned and mopey all the time, and it didn’t really work for me.
The greater majority of critics love this movie, but I honestly can’t tell why. The premise is an interesting idea, but they pretty much spoil the entire movie for themselves in the first few minutes of the movie, ruining any chance for surprise. You can’t expect much from the look of such an older movie, but you can at least try to explain how the fly’s head grew and the human’s head shrunk. None of the performances are able to impress me much in this movie either. In my opinion, skip this one and watch the remake with Jeff Goldblum. If you really want, you can catch both on Netflix streaming, but I think the only part about this movie worth watching is the quote that made me watch it to begin with. The Fly gets “It’d be funny if life wasn’t so sacred” out of “Did your brother ever experiment with animals?”
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