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THE FLY
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall
Director:  Kurt Neumann
Audio:  Dolby Digital 4.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox

Features:  Commentary with "David" Al Hedison
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  September 10, 2013

“Surely there must be something we can do to prove…?”

“There is…show me the fly.”

Film ***1/2

I love horror movies, and for me, The Fly has to be considered one of the top ten best ever in the genre.  In some ways, it’s typical of 1950’s horror:  some cheesy dialogue, pseudo-scientific babblings that talk down to the audience as though they were all in the third grade, and best of all, an actor in a big rubber fly head.  But at least three aspects make it rise above the rest and earn prestigious mention amongst horror’s best:  it achieves terrific, effective moments of suspense in simple ways.  It has a surprisingly strong and realistic emotional core.  And finally, it delivers one of cinema’s most memorable finales in its shocking surprise ending.

The Fly begins with a grisly death.  Respected scientist Andre Delambre (Hedison) is found with his upper body crushed in a giant metal press (complete with blood—a rarity for 50’s horror).  His wife, Helene (Owens) is seen running from the site.  She calls Andre’s brother, Francois (Price) for help, who brings along police inspector Charas (Marshall) to hear her story.  She seems calm—almost relieved.  Until, that is, the simple sound of a buzzing fly begins to unravel her.

In flashback form, she tells the strange, sad tale to the two men.  Andre, it turns out, had successfully completed experiments in teleportation.  Using two booths, and a lot of big, noisy lab equipment that was obviously more designed to look good than serve practical function (check out that neon!), he is able to send objects, and later animals, from one space to another. 

Things soon go terribly wrong.  He shuts himself off in his lab.  When his wife (and us) are finally allowed in, he’s covered himself with a black cloth and can no longer speak.  Via a typewriter, he explains to Helene that while attempting to transport himself, a fly had unknowingly entered the chamber.  Their atoms got scrambled in the mix.  His only hope:  find the strange looking fly with the white head and try the experiment again.

This leads to one of the film’s best sequences, where Helene, her little son and housekeeper all try to corner and collect the fly.  It’s a simple premise that achieves suspense remarkably, particularly when the little bugger starts to get closer and closer to escape.

I say ONE of the best sequences, but there are more to come, including Andre’s dramatic revelation.  Sure, it’s just a guy in a big mask, but it’s still effective, especially with the thousand-eye point of view shot. 

Andre is growing less and less able to control the insect-like instincts that are taking over his mind and body.  He destroys his research, and, with Helene’s help, himself as well, leaving no trace of his ill-advised experiment.  No trace, that is…except for the fly.

Sure, there are moments that unintentionally inspire laughter; in particular, the scientific explanations about atom swapping and such.  And there’s one line that never fails to get a laugh out of me:  when Andre confesses that he was unsuccessful in teleporting the family cat, leaving her atoms scattered to oblivion, he dryly remarks, “It would almost be funny, if life weren’t so sacred.”  Wow.

But the movie succeeds much more than it falls short.  Vincent Price is a name long associated with classic horror, and as such, it’s somewhat surprising to see him play a little against type here.  The genre is familiar, but Price’s character is not the catalyst of the horror, but rather, a helpless bystander.  I’m guessing audiences at the time must have been surprised to learn that Price wasn’t the fly.  Nevertheless, he proves his versatility by stepping out of the spotlight for this picture, and playing Francois as a kind, concerned relative trying to make sense of the strange story enveloping him.  But particularly good is Patricia Owens as Helene, in a role that requires more than just effective screaming.  Her loyalty and love for Andre as his situation spirals out of control is potent and emotional, and helps lend heart to an otherwise creepy premise.

And above all else, there’s that ending.  I’ve had the pleasure of showing The Fly to many first-time viewers over the years, and witnessing their reactions first hand.  All were shocked.  Some even claimed to have nightmares afterwards.  None, I’d wager, have ever forgotten it.  Nor will you.  Enjoy.

Video ***1/2

Fox’s high definition transfer is quite, and if you’ve watched The Fly on VHS or TV before like I have, you’ll really appreciate the difference.  Colors are brighter and more vivid than any previous version I’ve seen, with no bleeding or distortion.  More importantly, images are amazingly sharp and detailed throughout.  Even objects in deep focus are clear:  when certain shots show bookcases in the background, each book is clearly defined.  You can even see the grain in the wood of the walls in Francois’ study.  In darker scenes, like Andre’s lab, lights and shadows play against each other beautifully, yet objects in shadow don’t lose any detail.  Even the debris on his desk remain crisply rendered.  And for a film of its age, the print is remarkably clean, though not completely perfect.  There are a few telltale instances of spots and dirt, and some color softness around the edges.

Audio ***1/2

After a quick comparison, I must say I prefer the newly mixed 4.0 track to the standard surround—the newer mix has greater dynamic range, and makes impressively bold use of the multiple channel capabilities.  My receiver actually read it as a 5.0 track, showing signals to the front left, center and rear speakers and two separate signals to the rears, rather than a singular mono signal (and no signal to the subwoofer).  For starters, the musical score in its more intense moments enjoys a full front-to-back orchestration.  Both front and rear channels are used extensively for dialogue and movement effects:  note how when a character crosses in front of another while speaking, the dimensions of the audio seem to shift with him.  Or how simply crossing a room from left to right or front to back subtly changes the audio.  Impressive!  Better still is when Andre fires up his teleportation machine.  It gets quite loud and noisy, thanks to effective use of the rear channels.  Listen, too, for the sound of the cat when it disappears into space.  Creepy!  I noticed a few minor instances of hiss, particularly when one scene fades out and another fades in, but I stress VERY minor.  Noticeable, but not distracting.  Overall, I don’t think I’ve heard a multi-channel digital remixed soundtrack for an older film as boldly created as this one—in other words, REALLY making it a full surround experience, rather than just timidly hiding a few musical cues in the rear channels.  I liked it!  

Features ***1/2

There is a commentary with star Al Hedison and historian David Del Valle, which is a good listen.  There's also the "Biography" episode on Vincent Price, a retrospective featurette, Fox's original Movietone newsreel, and the classic trailer.

Summary:

The Fly may have flaws, but what's great about it overpowers any temporal weaknesses.  It's great to have this true sci-fi classic on Blu-ray!

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