Blu-ray Review: The Fly (1958)

By , Contributor
For anyone who hasn’t ever seen the 1958 sci-fi horror classic The Fly, there’s no better time than the present. Twentieth Century Fox has reissued the still-chilling fright flick on Blu-ray, complete with a generally satisfactory 1080p transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 mix. Yes, some of the effects are dated and laughably low-tech by today’s standards. Some of the acting (particularly by leading lady Patricia Owens) is marred by moments of over the top melodrama. But the concepts still get under the skin and director Kurt Neumann’s measured pacing remains deliciously suspenseful.

At the outset, Helene Delambre (Owens) has apparently murdered her husband, Andre (David Hedison). It’s a rather gruesome scene, with the authorities finding a body crushed in a hydraulic press. Helene is curiously calm, seemingly willing to confess to her crime. She did kill her husband, but insists it wasn’t murder since she was merely carrying out his final wishes. David’s brother Francois (Vincent Price) notes his sister-in-law’s unusual and obsessive preoccupation with houseflies.

We flash back to happier times, with Andre and Helene (and their young son) enjoying life. Andre has a laboratory in the basement where he’s devised a machine that allows for the “beaming” of an object from one place to another. This was nearly a decade in advance of Star Trek and a terrific sci-fi concept. He’s nearly perfected the process, but after he demonstrates the transportation of a dinner plate, his wife notes the “Made in Japan” inscription on the back has been reversed.

What eventually happens when Andre begins experimenting with the transportation of live creatures long ago slipped into the realm of pop culture common knowledge. Andre himself manages to get his atoms mixed with those of a common housefly. What might surprise viewers who know the story, but have never seen the film, is how methodically screenwriter James Clavell and director Kurt Neumann reveal key events. The horror of the story lies less in onscreen shocks and more in the psychological torture of a person transforming into something else.

The search for a fly with a “white head” (the one that received Andre’s atoms) is a lost cause. Andre’s reckless abandon sealed his fate. But beyond the usual sci-fi clichés of a scientist “playing God,” the body horror theme exists just as strongly in the 1958 The Fly as it does in the excellent 1986 David Cronenberg version (both were based on the same short story by George Langelaan). Metaphorically, Andre’s condition (and difficulty in accepting it) is eerily reminiscent of a host of real-life afflictions that cause irreversible change and/or damage to the body’s function and appearance. This is the root of why the film has inspired so many nightmares.

Fox’s Blu-ray is solid without ever reaching dazzling levels. The color cinematography by Karl Struss (another likely surprise for anyone accustomed to seeing footage or stills from its two black-and-white sequels) isn’t quite as sharp as one might expect. Fine detail is a bit lacking in the darker scenes (see Andre’s lab). However, it’s hard to blame any of this on the transfer as it may simply be an accurate representation of the film’s original look. The DTS-HD MA 4.0 mix is front-centric but always extremely clean and free of any issues.

Film historian David Del Valle is joined by star David Hedison for a good-humored commentary track. They crack a lot of jokes throughout, which is funny but at times the snarkiness gets a little out of hand (as if they’re attempting a poor man’s MST3K). Also among the supplements is Biography: Vincent Price (1997), which runs 44 minutes and covers the legend’s career. “Fly Trap: Catching a Classic” is a short but excellent featurette that looks at The Fly and its sequels. The Movietone News footage runs under a minute and is hardly worth mentioning.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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