Monday, 19 September 2011

Unit 1: Anatomy - Review - Kurt Neumann's The Fly (1958)

Figure 1. The Fly 1958 Poster Art.

The original Kurt Neumann take or rather the “soft” classic about a genetically altered part man part fly. The film is set on the sloping end of a fifties film high, promoting an interesting combination of genre from mystery to comedy and back from comedy to tragedy.

• Directed by: Kurt Neumann
• Written by: James Clavell
• Cast: Charles Herbert as Philippe Delambre, David Hedison as Andre Delambre, Herbert Marshall as Inspector Charas, Patricia Owens as Helene Delambre & Vincent Price as Francois Delambre.
• Genre: Classic, Mystery, Suspense, Mild Comedy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
• Duration: 89 Minutes (aprox)

The film premise is set on a rather chilling night in Montreal. A woman is spotted dashing away from a crushed body in a hydraulic press (crushed not once but twice) and to think this tale would start out “in the norm”. The perpetrator of this menacing act is quickly identified as Helene Delambre, the spouse of a respected scientist (the recently crushed & dispatched) Andre Delambre.

“He put his head and his arm under the press. Why?”
“I cannot answer that question; coffee, Inspector?”

Patricia Owens character, Helene Delambre remains rather cold toward the beginning of the film, “swatting” away questions relating to the atrocious circumstances of her recently departed husband Andre. The tension only returns to the scene with the buzzing of an elusive fly which causes Helen to go crazy when the household servant reveals a fly swatter.

“Don’t swat the fly!” (Demands the crazed Helene)

Following a wave of regret Helene finally confides in her husband’s brother Francois who follows her account of his late brother’s demise (in the form of a flashback), initially introducing his brother’s latest invention.

An interconnected relay shifting the containing matter of box 1 to box 2 (aka teleportation), Andres (unstable) experiments expand from lifeless matter to his poor helpless cat & then quickly to a guinea pig which to everyone’s surprise doesn’t disintegrate.

“Into space... a stream of cat atoms...” (Says the happy go lucky Andre)

The use of haywire experiments only work to inform the audience that something is going to go wrong with this happy go lucky scientist, fearlessly playing with fire. The introduction of the transformed Andre is rather sudden with the climax buried under the cloth containing a very mute Andre – part fly, part man.

Figure 2. Andre Hides his Face.

The moment of transformation when Andre comes in contact with the fly is not visually demonstrated, the circumstance is merely understood by cryptic typewriter messages left to his dear wife Helene on his lab door.

“Knock once for yes and twice for no” (instructs Helene)

Following Helene’s introduction to her partial husband (part Jekyll, part Hyde), the basic interaction breaks down to knocks on a table (to communicate yes or no) and over edge ear piercing screams - namely when Helene finally sees what has become of her husband. Andre’s instincts increasingly become more primal as he fights off the fly’s nature to dominate his body for as long as possible, or long enough for Helene to find the illusive white headed fly.

“Silly it may be but the tension is quickly cranked up as Hedison realises he has to find the fly so that he can try to reverse the damage.” (BBC Movies: 2007)
“I said catch them don’t kill them” (says Helene rooting around a fly carcass)

The missing head and left arm of Andre is in fact merged onto the front of a tiny fly which the body of Andre wishes to capture to remerge he and the fly’s atoms (as if it would work out the second time). It is only after a prolonged period that the body of Andre grows weak against the advances of the fly’s DNA, which causes Andre in a last act of desperation to destroy himself, ultimately ending in a tirade of anger & the destruction of his lab.

Figure 3. Andre’s Transformation is revealed.

The chase for the untamed fly with a tiny arm and head attached (or the white headed fly) is the only factor to confirm the sanity of murderess Helene after the crushing of Andre/fly’s body, which is briefly seen by the audience & not by Andre’s trusty brother Francois. Not even when Andre is uttering “Help Me” in a high pitched stupor as he lay caught in a spider’s web.

“Matter cannot be transported” (says Inspector Charas before seeing the remnants of Andre in a spider’s web)

The film almost ends in a down note when Helene’s story is considered bogus (who exactly could comprehend such a tale). When everything appears to be over with the cuffs going on Helene, her son Philippe appears from the fray to inadvertently inform Francois about a white headed fly caught in a spider’s web. Francois and Charas depart to the illustrious bench containing the web, fly & SPIDER.

Figure 4. A closer look at the Web.

“I shall never forget that scream as long as I live...” (Says Inspector Charas following the demise of Andres second half)

“We never could get it all out,” said Vincent Price of the scene’s filming. “We were playing this kind of philosophical scene, and every time that little voice [of the fly] would say ‘Help me! Help me!’ we would just scream with laughter. It was terrible. It took us about 20 takes to finally get it.” (Biodrowski: 2007)
Following Andres exit the film resolves and everything appears back in the scope of normality. Helene is no longer a murder suspect (I wonder how they got the charges dropped), Francois gets to move in on his brother’s wife and everything appears to be right in the world. Philippe’s mentality is the only one to remain ignorant to the fate of his father to which Francois decides to sum up in the form of an off the cuff pleasantry.

“Well Philippe he died because of work” (Says Francois as he wonders into the distance with his brother’s family).

To Summarize

The narrative of “The Fly – 1958” was told from an interesting perspective point, the use of the flashback arch added to the depth of the central character on & off screen. The beginning of the story was particularly strong with questions retaining into who Helene had murdered and why?

The cast (particularly Helene) played their roles accurately (which I imagine would be difficult when pioneering a concept like this). The sound was impactful, a little grating (particularly Helene’s scream and the sound of the transporter warming up) but it worked for the role it had to play.

The crazed exploration for a fabled white headed fly certainly aided the films comedic elements; Helene looked particularly crazy when fussing over flies.

Figure 5. Help me! Help me!

The tragic nature of the film was lost due to a helium pitched “help me” and a fast paced resolution tying the ending up with a neat little bow. All being said the film is a classic and inspired other greats to expand into this form of creativity. While it is not without its flaws it had its peak in the fifties & is still an acceptable form of entertainment in today’s industry.

This entertaining fantasy film has become a popular cult classic, but also a film that has been often held up to ridicule and scorn. It manages to draw a fine line between black humor and the taking of its absurd tale seriously. That it plays it straight with mock seriousness becomes both the film's strength and weakness. (Schwartz: 2007)
List of Illustrations

Figure 1. The Fly 1958 Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:20/09/11)

Figure 2. Andre Hides his Face. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:20/09/11)

Figure 3. Andre’s Transformation is revealed. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:20/09/11)

Figure 4. A closer look at the Web. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:20/09/11)

Figure 5. Help me! Help me! (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:20/09/11)


BBC Movies. (2007) The Fly Review At: (Accessed on: 20/09/11)

Biodrowski, Steve. (2007) The Fly (1958) – A Retrospective At: (Accessed on: 20/09/11)

Schwartz, Dennis. (2007) The Fly Review At: (Accessed on: 20/09/11)


  1. More books would help here. Sometimes the more interesting opinions can only be found in print. A writer has more space to manoeuvre and open up more speculative approaches to analyse.

    Obviously the UCA library can't cater for every single subject. so Google Books and Athens are your friends here.

    Also, in the actual text. You have to include a date and page number in your reference.

  2. Okay - I see now - (I replied to your email before reading this comment). The point about google books and Athens is that they will take you beyond what is readily available online - which means you stand a good chance of articulating something more insightful, or opening up one of these reviews into the foundations of your written assignment (for example). Tom suggests 'more books would help' - he's right: 'more books ALWAYS help an undergraduate!' :D However, your Harvard referencing isn't quite right - after the quote is should be (Dennis: 2007) - that is, if 'Dennis' is the surname; if 'Dennis' is the writer's first name, it shouldn't be used in the citation, only the surname. Be sure to check out the referencing guide in the Rough Guide available on myUCA

    Also - tonally, your review IS a little on the descriptive side - as opposed to digging into the thematic meat and potatoes - BUT, Stitch, a few nitpicks aside, you've obviously invested in this, it's well presented - and it bodes well!