Review: The Fly (1958)

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The original 1958 version of The Fly proved to be a fascinating experience, even from the perspective of having seen David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake. Firstly, the film has a mystery that resides in nearly every frame. In some ways, it evokes Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” which formulated a mystery around its central character and concept before being unveiled in the closing chapters. This aspect coupled with an acute sense of the idyllic makes the film interesting in how it compares with the Cronenberg picture. That movie had the savage intimacy of a play and conceptualised the transformation into the titular creature as though one is going through a terminal illness. The original feels like a cautionary tale of science as well as evoking the fear of human beings devolving. Two scenes mainly convey the latter theme with commendable precision.

The first is in the third act of the picture, which depicts the last moments of scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) as he struggles to write his last request on a chalkboard. Delambre has his face covered, and one of his arms has already transformed. Hedison’s silent performance is powerful as he thrashes about and fights for the final moments of his humanity, which is accentuated by two things. The first is his written declaration being purposefully shown in the background of the frame. The second is Hedison’s consistent violent gesture of beating his Fly arm as though it is an entity that is about to attack and consume him.

The second scene comes near the end, and it has the faint voice of Delambre as he begs for help when he is in human fly form as a spider closes in to eat him. The scene ends with Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) putting the title creature out of his misery, which is punctuated with a blood-curdling scream that haunts the seasoned man. Aside from putting the moral framework into perspective as in the aftermath, Charas and Andre’s brother Francois (Vincent Price) discuss the death of the malformed human being versus the death of the human fly.

Despite all this, one does feel that the film does not entirely escape its idyllic tone. Part of this comes from the picture’s visual scheme which gives rise to some picturesque and stunning shots, which were achieved by the film being shot in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Scenes like Andre and his wife, Helene (Patricia Owens) talking in the garden and their evening at the ballet make the picture transcends its B-movie nature, particularly with the vivid use of green and red in both scenes. The other part of persistent tone comes from the ending, which shakes off its moral murkiness in favour of an optimistic and saccharine ending.

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