It’s not a rainy Sunday, but it’s not sunny out, which means: Double Feature! The Fly (1958) and The Fly (1986)! Both films were fantastic. These double features make me realize how I appreciate more modern pacing. The 1958 Fly unfolds as a murder mystery…the meat of the story is told in form of a flashback. We know Helene has killed her husband, we don’t know why. Through her tale, we learn that her husband created a transporter, and as he was trying the experiment on himself a fly flew into the pod. He came out with a fly head and one fly arm, accompanied by a fly with a teensy-weensy human head and human arm. There was much scampering about to try and catch the fly, Andre suspected that if he and the fly could go through the transporter together, the results might be reversed. This was pulled off with deadly seriousness, and it’s fascinating to watch Helene—who knows the stakes—trying to catch the fly with the help of the son and the housekeeper, who only knew the fly with the funny white head escaped from the lab. Time is running out for poor Andre, who is finding it harder and harder to stay in touch with his human side. He types notes for Helene (because he can’t speak) and through it all, as fly-ness takes over his human consciousness, he still has better spelling, grammar, and punctuation than most internet users. Finally, Helene helps put her husband to death. She tells her tale to brother-in-law Francois and Inspector Charas, but Charas dismisses her as a madwoman. As the ambulance comes to take her away, the son finds the white headed fly trapped in a spider web. Francois and Charas arrive as a spider bears down on the tiny victim. “Help me! Help me!” the man-fly pleads. Charas kills both creature and spider with a rock, and releases Helene.
David Cronenberg’s remake is much more to-the-point. Reporter Veronica (Geena Davis at her best) gets Seth Brundle (awesome Jeff Goldblum) to talk about his transporter, and falls in love with him. In a moment of drunken jealousy, Brundle decides to transport himself. Oops! It’s a fly! Where the Neumann version goes for a clean swap, Brundle assimilates fly DNA into himself. And starts to change. It’s not until he’s fused with one of his own transporters, a fly-human-metal monstrosity, that Veronica shoots him to put him out of his misery. This is one of the most disgusting movies I’ve ever seen, effects-wise. Fingernails and teeth falling out, hair falling out, sores all over the body, vomiting on food to digest it.
He’s kind of adorable…
Less so like this…
Both movies make word plays about flies “wouldn’t harm a fly”, squashing things, stomping things. There aren’t many affectionate nods to the original, though Brundlefly laboriously typing on his transporter is one.
Both films are pretty great. The Fly wraps up my week of 1950’s movies. The only stinker was the Deadly Mantis. Tomorrow? The 1960’s!
Fun IMDB Facts:
• James Clavell’s first script was faithful to George Langelaan’s original story, but Fox executives demanded a happier ending.
• Patricia Owens has a real fear of insects. Director Kurt Neumann used this by not allowing her to see the makeup until the “unmasking’ scene.
• In the scene where the fly with Andre Delambre’s head and arm is caught in the spider’s web, a small animatronic figure with a moving head and arm was used in the spiderweb as a reference for actors Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall. Price later remembered that filming the scene required multiple takes, because each time he and Marshall looked at the animatronic figure, with its human head and insect body, they would burst out laughing.
• Originally a project for Tim Burton to direct. Michael Keaton was offered the role of Seth Brundle, but he declined.
• The inspiration for the design of the telepods came from the shape of the cylinder in director David Cronenberg’s vintage Ducati motorcycle.
• Veronica tells Seth (Jeff Goldblum) that “Something went wrong.” Ellie Sattler tells Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) the same thing in Jurassic Park). Brundle and Malcolm are also both in the habit of wearing the same set of clothes every day.