In 1957, author George Langalaan published a short story entitled “The Fly” in an issue of Playboy magazine. It was a slick and effective little story about a scientist whose atoms become entangled with that of a fly as a result of a matter transmission experiment. Later that year, Twentieth Century-Fox secured the screen rights through the auspices of independent producer Robert L. Lippert (who was behind all three films, but only received screen credit on the third) who went on to produce the original film in lavish DeLuxe color and Cinemascope in an effort to elevate this film well above the average low budget science fiction films of the 1950s. Now, Fox Home DVD has released a terrific boxed set which includes a re-release of THE FLY and RETURN OF THE FLY (with better transfers than the original 2000 DVD release) as well as the home video debut of the oft-requested third film of the series, CURSE OF THE FLY.
DISC # 1—THE FLY (1958)
In THE FLY, Canadian scientist Andre Delambre (Al “David” Hedison) invents a “disintegrator/integrator” which can disintegrate the atoms of a solid, three-dimensional object in one glass booth and reintegrate them again in another. Eventually, he gains enough confidence in his machine to experiment on himself. As his goes through the process, a common housefly which he does not notice is in the booth with him and when they reintegrate, Andre has the arm and head of the fly while the tiny creature has his head and arm. After all attempts to recapture the tiny fly fail and with the mind of the fly slowly taking over Andre’s personality, he enlists the aid of his shocked wife, Helene (Patricia Owens) to destroy all evidence of his botched experiment…including himself. After Andre’s death, Helene tells her brother-in-law, Francois (Vincent Price) and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) the horrible story, and just as they are about to have her certified as a lunatic, they see the tiny creature in a spider’s web in probably filmdom’s most memorable endings.
THE FLY is a memorable classic for a variety of reasons. One thing is the fact that while so many 1950s science fiction/horror films were produced on shoestring budgets and look it, THE FLY was produced on a much more lavish scale (color/Cinemascope). In addition, the cast features such distinguished supporting character actors like Vincent Price (not quite “the King of Horror” as THE HOUSE OF USHER and AIP would be two years into his future) and Herbert Marshall. Also, the fly make-up (designed by Ben Nye) is excellent and very convincing as are the elaborate machinery in the laboratory scenes. In fact these electrical gadgets were recycled from Fox’s 1957 Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn effort DESK SET and would later be reused in such Fox productions as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (the 1961 film and the 1963-1967 ABC- TV series) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).
Fox’s DVD of THE FLY appears to be a bit sharper and cleaner print than the 2000 DVD release with stronger colors and an overall better picture. Like the 2000 release, it is in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1). The most welcome addition to this version is a great audio commentary with film historian David Del Valle and David Hedison. Mr. Hedison has some great memories of working on the film and speaks very highly of the movie itself as well as working with Patricia Owens and Vincent Price. The other audio tracks feature an English 4.0 Dolby Surround track as well as Spanish mono track and a French mono track. Subtitles are included in English and Spanish.
DISC # 2—RETURN
OF THE FLY (1959)
After the enormous box office success of THE FLY in 1958, producer Robert L. Lippert and Twentieth Century-Fox hoped to strike gold once again and worked together on this hastily produced, but in many ways effective sequel.
Approximately 15 years after Andre Delambre’s death, Helene Delambre passes away from “shock and grief” having never fully recovered after helping her husband commit horrible suicide. Philippe Delambre (played by little Charles Herbert in the 1958 film and now played as an adult by Brett Halsey) asks his Uncle Francois Delambre (Vincent Price, the only returning cast member from the original film) to explain to him the circumstances of his father’s tragic death. After relating the events from the previous film to Philippe, the young scientist decides to reconstruct Andre’s teleportation machine and prove that it can be used successfully. Against the wishes of his uncle who fears another experimental disaster, Philippe and his assistant Alan Hinds (David Frankham) begin revisiting Andre’s experiment. After realizing that Alan is actually a spy, Philippe calls the police, but before they arrive, Alan knocks Philippe unconscious and puts him in the teleportation booth with a fly. The resulting mutation is the body of Philippe Delambre with a gigantic head, arm, and foot of a fly. The rest of the film deals with Philippe’s spectacular revenge as well as the frantic search for him and the tiny fly.
Produced on a lower budget than the previous film, RETURN OF THE FLY still utilizes the Cinemascope technology and in some ways is more effective with its moody black and white photography by Brydon Baker. The fly costume is a bit more absurd than the first film with its gigantic head although the half-man/half-guinea pig mutant played by Patrick O’Hara is eerily done. Stuntman Ed Wolff portrays Philippe as the fly and not Brett Halsey unlike David Hedison who wore the fly make up in the first film. British character actor David Frankham (who would later work with Vincent Price in 1961’s MASTER OF THE WORLD and 1962’s TALES OF TERROR) effectively portrays villain Alan Hinds as does portly Dan Seymour as his undertaker assistant Max Barthold. Brett Halsey is good as Philippe if a little bland and Vincent Price is his usual reliable self complete with the “velvet-voice” from the original film. He has often said that this film was not bad, but he did object to filming in black and white because the first one was in color and felt that both should be in color to keep the continuity. Director Edward L. Bernds (best known for THE THREE STOOGES shorts) keeps the pace moving briskly for 80 minutes (about 14 minutes shorter than THE FLY).
Fox’s presentation of RETURN OF THE FLY is a bit of an improvement over the 2000 DVD release with an overall sharper picture and crisp black and white still presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1). The sound is excellent in English mono and stereo and Spanish mono. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French.
DISC#3—THE CURSE OF THE FLY (1965)
By 1965, producer Robert L. Lippert had established himself as a leading independent producer of science fiction/horror films based in the European market. In 1963, he produced THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, an Italian made adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with Vincent Price as well as such British-based films as WITCHCRAFT (1964 with Lon Chaney, Jr.), THE HORROR OF IT ALL (1964 with Pat Boone) and this third film in THE FLY franchise, CURSE OF THE FLY (which is set in Canada, but shot at Shepperton Studios in England). Now, after many years of being a no show on either VHS, laserdisc, or DVD and being shown on television in bad pan and scan transfers, THE CURSE OF THE FLY makes its long awaited debut on DVD as part of THE FLY COLLECTION in an excellent widescreen presentation which finally does justice to this bizarre and oft-overlooked film.
One chilly evening, the silence outside Fournier’s Mental Clinic is shattered by the shriek of breaking glass. A beautiful woman clad only in her underwear appears at the window and escapes into the night. Soon the woman is identified as Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray) and meets Martin Delambre (George Baker). Martin is the grandson of Andre Delambre, the original inventor of the disintegrator/integrator. After a whirlwind courtship, Martin and Patricia impulsively marry and the scientist takes her back to his family home in Quebec. The family includes Martin’s father, Henri Delambre (Brian Donlevy), and Martin’s brother, Albert (living in London) as well as two Chinese servants, Wan (a memorable Yvette Rees) and Tai (Burt Kwouk from THE PINK PANTHER films).
It seems that the Delambre family is still trying to perfect their integration experiments, but instead of creating half man/half fly creatures, their botched guinea pigs include two lab assistants and Martin’s ex-wife, Judith (Mary Manson). These unfortunate creatures are locked in stables on the estate and taken care of by Wan, who feels a strong connection to Judith. After Patricia enters the scene, Wan takes every opportunity to get rid of her including driving her mad and letting Judith out of her cage to attack her.
Eventually, a nosy police inspector (Jeremy Wilkins) enters the mix and Henri decides to eliminate all evidence by transporting the mutants to London. When the two man/monsters are sent through, they re-integrate as one massive blob of flesh which the repulsed Albert kills. At this point, the young scientist realizes that they (the Delambres) are the real monsters and refuses to have anything more to do with the experiments. This leads to the very effective climax in which Henri and Martin attempt to make their escape.
In many ways, THE CURSE OF THE FLY is a very effective and moody film. The opening is pure film noir as Patricia runs through the forest in slow motion over the opening credits with the London Symphony Orchestra (led by Bert Shefter who did the music for the previous films) playing a piano concerto in the background. This is an effective way of introducing the concert pianist motif which symbolizes Patricia who is a concert pianist. The stark black and white photography by Basil Emmott is the total opposite of the somewhat gaudy DeLuxe color of the first film and helps to emphasize the eerie mood. In addition, with a significantly reduced budget than the first film, the Delambre’s laboratory does not feature the elaborate machinery of Andre’s lab, but a more cost effective and reduced set.
The actors in THE CURSE OF THE FLY are good and although Brian Donlevy does seem to slur his words in a couple of scenes, he does deliver some ironic lines like…”he (Albert) really thinks we’re monsters” and “we’re scientists, Martin...we have to do things we hate, that even sicken us!!” George Baker as Martin Delambre is good and he would later go on to appear in two James Bond films (ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE in 1969 and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977). Carole Gray as Patricia is very beautiful and very effective. The audience journeys with her through her descent from the madhouse of Madame Fournier to her even worse fate in the house of Delambre. Miss Gray (born in South Africa) would also appear in such genre favorites as THE DEVILS OF DARKNESS (1965), THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966), and ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) as well as an episode of “The Avengers” (1965).
Fox’s transfer is excellent on THE CURSE OF THE FLY considering the film was originally shot on a lower budget than the first two films. The real news here is that it can finally be seen in a widescreen (2.35:1) anamorphic transfer. Finally, the audience can see lots of picture information that was lost on full screen television broadcasts. The audio is great and is in English stereo and mono as well as Spanish mono. The subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
DISC# 4—THE FLY COLLECTION DISC OF HORRORS
The fourth disc in THE FLY COLLECTION features a plethora of special features including a 1997 "A&E Biography" episode featuring the life of Vincent Price. Also included is a short entitled "Fly Trap: Catching a Classic," as well as loads of stills from each film and trailers for each as well as pressbook photos, poster art and trailers for other Fox horror films.
WOW!!! Fox has really pulled out all the stops with this great boxed set which should be on the shelves of every genre fan. Besides, one would be hard pressed to resist that terrific box art featuring the fly monster from RETURN OF THE FLY. Keep up the great work Fox!!! (Joe Cascio)
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