Radioactive monsters are traditionally born from stock footage. Nuclear tests emit dire sounding narration of man’s ignorant follies with the bomb, spawning an incalculable number of otherworldly beings who exist to munch on panicked civilians. And there there is The Fly, which sparingly employs radioactive tropes, replacing them for personal scientific foibles inside the world’s only disintegrator-integrator device, courtesy of soon-to-be closed Delambre Electronics.
In an era of vacuum tubes, Andre Delambre (David Hedison) stumbles upon matter transport, a discovery which will end his life at the hands of a hydraulic press. The Fly, instead of rushing to imbue its narrative scope with perceptive and stuffy scientists, opens on desperation. Trickling blood drips from the press, a squished body lying next to it sans head.
Thus, instead of visual effects trickery, Fly becomes endearing mystery, suspenseful in a counter to traditional rushed body counts. Via 1958, Australian writer James Clavell bucks a trend of whittling female housewife characters, Helen Delambre (Patricia Owens) independent and astute, even understanding.
Helen is bed-ridden, distraught over actions which murdered her husband until she divulges a gruesome reality to her brother-in-law and cautiously skeptical detective. Fly wraps around, book-ending its story in the present, while producing a past Helen wishes to forget, but the audience came to see.
The Fly is ingeniously dirty, a creature greeted with revulsion and better suited to horror than many of the nonsensical bug pictures of the atomic era. Them! portrayed 20-foot high worker ants marching into Los Angeles sewers, and Deadly Mantis cheaply constructed terror from a prehistoric frozen preying mantis. But, The Fly is diminutive, not directly a monster so much as aberrational horror. Its touch is unnerving and yet its presence is portrayed as harmless. In its human size, without committing grievous acts, Andre Delambre’s broken mind and fly head are disturbingly morose.
Andre and Helen are unusually happy before unseen events stricken Andre with his mutated existence, a ploy which builds on their young marriage casually, if forcefully. Few films depict a housewife satisfied by her husband’s attraction to week’s of labor, closed off from the world inside a basement laboratory. Credit again then to Clavell who needs to push character building with punchy romance, while ignoring tired, clumsy cliches. Backing the heart of The Fly on Helen’s distress over losing her husband is in opposition to audiences frothing at the mouth to witness a human/fly hybrid. Audiences, it turns out, are like customers: They’re not always right.
Fly would spawn two sequels, one a black & white retread, the second a weirdly unsettling British produced Curse of the Fly. Cult status would unleash the masterfully done ’80s remake starring Jeff Goldblum, and for its addictive fascination with droopy visual effect practicality, Ben Nye’s famous mask for 1958’s The Fly still remains simplistic wiggling genius. Covering it with cloth is the master stroke, a startling reveal edited to perfection and segued into rampage. Capping it all with the rightfully famous, “Help me!” sequence solidifies classic status. The Fly is humanized ’50s sci-fi at its pinnacle. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]
Fox debuts this Eastman/DeLuxe colored vintage beauty to Blu-ray with outstanding results, capturing the radiance of primaries. Nearly glowing with lustrous hues, The Fly saturates screens with natural, filmic qualities. Color concentration does not overstep boundaries, and instead splashes screens with vibrancy, particularly in reds and blues.
Massive encoding sticks over 35Mbps to carry grain structure, and with some digital hiccups, performs admirably. Larger screen sizes will discover those digital quirks, grain slightly clumped in specific screens, lessening clarity if to limited effect. Behind film grain lies a naturally sharp, well textured presentation, and while close-ups are few, environments are superb. Laboratory equipment carries readable dials, and fancy woodworking or gold trim on furniture looks exquisite. Exteriors are flushed with defined foliage.
The Fly is beaming with clarity, well preserved (or well restored) with an appreciation for resolution. Damage is spotty and rare, lessened to minor specks or scratches, leaving only glancing impact in their appearance. Black levels are arid without pushing into crush, lacking full density if retaining a hold on images.
Long since discarded processes render fading edits muted, blotchy and unavoidably dismal in quality. It is no fault of the disc. Of concern is a sequence inside the lab, running around five minutes from the 45-minute mark. Appreciable definition dries up and grain appears spongy, as if the scene was pulled from a lesser print. Otherwise, the film appears consistently pure and worthy of hi-def release. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Brought to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD 4.0 mix – no English mono included – The Fly stumbles in its use of positional channels, much in the vein of prior DVD releases. Dialog softly splinters off from the center, wandering into stereo channels without support. Fidelity is clean, but tends to waver when removed from its placement. It feels stretched thin, and certainly unnatural.
This 4.0 mix does make use of positives, including flies buzzing inside the home in each channel, and swells of particles when Andre’s disintegrator-integrator lights up his lab. Spookiness is doubled during failed experimentation on a cat, which meows hauntingly into space from rear channels. This is effective if strained material. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Vincent Price is given his praise in an excellent 44-minute biography, depicting a uniquely Hollywood figure, remaining so long after his passing in 1993. This was originally produced in 1997. Commentary comes from actor David Hedison and film historian David Del Valle.
Fly Trap reminisces and discusses impact from the film’s release, a tad short at 11-minutes, especially considering discussion near the end about sequels. A one minute clip from Fox Movietone news profiles a kitschy premiere showing, and The Fly’s trailers buzzes in behind (sorry). [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]
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