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The Fly (1958) starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price
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The Fly (1958) starring  David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price

Many people think of  The Fly as a monster movie.  But that’s not correct.  The Fly is a psychological thriller, where a beautiful young wife (Patricia Owens) has murdered her rich, successful husband (David Hedison) – a brilliant inventor.  The inventor’s brother (Vincent Price) is shocked beyond words.  He knows that she loved her husband more than her own life, and can’t imagine why she would do such a thing.  Especially knowing how it would impact her young son (Charles Herbert). Only after Vincent Price tricks her does the bed-ridden woman tell the story …


The movie then spends the majority of it’s time in a flashback, going back several months.  Telling the fantastic story of how the young inventor was attempting to create a device to teleport  matter across space.  Like the now-famous transporter from  Star Trek. An early effort with a cheap china plate seems successful.  Until the wife points out that the printing on the plate is reversed. More work, and more tests, follow, until the scientist is convinced that the device now works perfectly — and uses his son’s pet cat as a test suspect. The attempt fails, and the cat’s ghostly “meow” echoes through the chamber — the silliest point of the movie.

Throughout the flashback, the movie shows how much the scientist and his wife love each other, and how Vincent Price’s character is truly devoted to them both and their son. Eventually, the scientist has his transporter  working, and successfully transports himself.  Only for a fly to have gotten into the chamber with him, and a horrible accident occurs: he emerges with the head and arm  of a fly, and the fly has his miniaturized head and arm — and flies away. During the bulk of the film, the scientist has his head covered, and it’s not until the very end of the film that the audience — or his wife — sees his full horror. This is an excellent choice, as it builds the suspense, and maintains the sense of disbelief required for this movie.

Need … fly

The scientist is convinced that his only hope is to find the fly, and run them both back through the transporter, hoping to unscramble themselves. The wife, son, and housekeeper (Kathleen Freeman) attempt to do so.  But after seemingly catching “the funny fly with the white head” it escapes, and the scientist loses all hope. He feels his mind changing, becoming more fly-like, and his fly-arm nearly attacks his wife, while he attempts to restrain it with his other arm — truly good acting on David Hedison’s part.

Having given up hope, the inventor feels that the secret of his transporter is too dangerous, and destroys his equipment — and is now wanting to destroy himself in the industrial press on the premises. His wife, weeping at the thought, helps him … and so ends the flashback.

Help me …

At this point, it’s unclear if we’ve been watching a science fiction movie — or an insane woman telling the fiction that she believes to be reality. The police inspector investigating the death (Herbert Marshall) doesn’t have any issue deciding.  He orders police to remove the wife to an institute for the criminally insane. Vincent Price’s character, however, knows of his brother’s brilliance, and is convinced that it’s possible.  And the police inspector becomes convinced as they walk outside, by a spider’s web …  Where the white-headed fly is caught, about to be consumed by the spider. The close-up of the human fly, with the heart-rending wail of “Help me! Heeelp meee!” haunted me for weeks when I first saw this as a teenager – one of the classic moments of cinema.

Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall): I shall never forget that scream as long as I live…

The inspector picks up a rock, and kills both spider and fly. As Vincent Price’s character points out, he’s just as guilty of murder as his sister-in-law.  

“You’ve committed murder just as much as Helene did. You killed a fly with a human head. She killed a human with a fly head.”

In the interest of justice, the inspector decides that the dead man committed suicide.  The grieving widow is freed, to pick up the pieces of her life, with her son and the love of Vincent Price.

In short,  The Fly is a truly great movie, and highly recommended.

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