The Fly (1958) Blu-ray Review
Bad science and body-horror have been the mainstays of the macabre almost from the very beginning!The key ingredients of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly are both its humanity and its surrealism. It paints a picture of youthful endeavour and the commitment and love of a young and devoted family on the cusp of great success. David Hedison (known as Al back then before he joined on the USS Nautilus for TV’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and then helped 007 as the CIA’s Felix Leiter) is the dedicated scientist Andre Delambre who, at the start of the film, is found to be dead, his head and his arm crushed beneath a big industrial press. His distraught wife, Helene (pretty redhead Patricia Owens) confesses to the deed and babbles on about how they must find a strange fly with a white head. Clearly in a state of shock, she is taken back home and sedated. Finally, she recounts the outlandish events that led up to her husband’s apparent mercy-killing to his aghast brother, Francois (Vincent Price).The Fly is a lot more sophisticated than its premise would have you believe, but this lends it an air of respectability that can work against its reputation as a classic shocker. People tend to come to it expecting grisly murders and a monster running through the streets. The performances are good and the slow build-up helps to develop a sense of brooding inevitability, yet the menace we feel is more by proxy than by genuinely monstrous design. We don’t feel threatened all that much, but this is what makes the story a little more out of the ordinary. The makeup design isn’t quite up there with the greats, but it is effective, just the same … and that finale is sure to haunt you for a long time afterwards.
The Fly (1958) Picture QualityFox’s UK region-free Blu release presents The Fly at its original 2.35:1 and not the 1.85:1 that it claims on the packaging, and its transfer comes via AVC.
The image is culled from a print that is in good shape. What few nicks and pops there are will hardly even be noticed. The Cinemascope sheen in very much in effect, with the film looking thick, rich and colourful. Finite detail isn’t much in evidence, though it is doubtful that the film ever looked really crisp and sharply rendered. It has a heavy, saturated feel to the picture that denies the image tight definition. I wouldn’t say that this is an error of the transfer at all, though, just the photographic process of the source. And, even so, you can certainly see lots of equipment quite vividly down in the lab. You can read the messages on the blackboard, the writing on the ashtray and the print in the newspaper. The horrible hairs on the fly-arm and head are pretty stringently separated too, and look at the web and the spider, itself. Yep, all the grisly stuff comes across well.
Fidelity is gaudy and deep. The tones are lurid and oozing with painted depth. Pastel shades seem to be favoured quite a bit.
Look at Patricia Owens’ lipstick, and her dresses and makeup. Pinks, reds and oranges, and a nice line in midnight blues. The greens of the foliage aren’t too shabby, though they seem to have less depth once we are outside in the garden. Surprisingly, the blood spatterings from the industrial press are quite vivid too. The green electric coils and the blue and red shimmering light-shows that take place down in the lab look fabulously fifties in alarming potency. Skin-tones aren’t in the least bit realistic, but then they wouldn’t have looked that way even during its cinematic premier, such is the style of the lighting and the makeup. The strange colouring of Andre’s fly-head is enigmatically marvelous – golden, blue and black. Likewise the ghastly pale human head sitting on the fly body, with its red-ringed eyes and lattice of webbing ensnaring it. The big approaching spider is a horrific sight to behold – as fake as all hell but that doesn’t matter, it still looks bloody horrible, with lots of detail and colour afforded it. There should be no difficulty in spotting the little white-headed fly that they are all searching for either as it buzzes around the place.
Contrast is good. Some scene transitions fluctuate a little bit, but the picture remains robust for the most part. Black levels are more than adequate too. I detected no crushing going on in the more shadowy elements.
There is good depth to the image as well. As characters move about the house and the lab and the garden, there is definite spatiality lent to the frame, enhancing the distances and the sense of three-dimensionality.
The digital transfer, itself, is largely free of artefacts. There is no aliasing and no overt artificial sharpening going on. The image does not suffer from any banding and grain provides a decent level of texture throughout.
Sadly, I can supply no screengrabs from this disc as it simply would not play in my PC at all.
There is good depth to the image as well
The Fly (1958) Sound QualityThe Fly was privileged to get a more ambitious soundmix than of its genre peers, with glorious 4-track stereo that is replicated here in an interesting DTS-HD MA 4.0 mix.
Well, the stereo spread across the front is reasonably well appointed. Movement and voices and electrical pizzazz certainly gain an extra lease of life and vibrancy. The score from Sawtell and Shefter is sweetly presented. It is a little more fuzzy than warm, but the music still comes across well with some distinction and no mush. The screaming from Patricia Owens during the big reveal is pretty decently projected and there is some directionality afforded speech, but there are occasions when voices and dialogue are merely reasonable. There is nothing lost or swamped, but I didn’t believe that dialogue was consistently mixed. It is an old track, of course, so some considerations for its vintage should be made. This being said, I did think that there were moments when voices could be a little muffled. But the most famous line of the entire film, the classic little “Help meeeeee!” voice, comes through just fine, however, with just enough tiny ickiness to make the skin crawl and the heart skip a beat, and the disembodied mewling of the limbo-lost cat is suitably melancholy and ethereal. The thump of the merciful rock is also pretty well handled, as is the harsh crushing of the industrial press.
This is quite a dynamic track, comparatively speaking, and Fox should be applauded for supplying the original 4-track stereo.
The Fly (1958) ExtrasA fun commentary from David Hedison and film historian David Del Valle accompanies the film and the duo make for an engaging experience as they relive the classic hokum of Neumann’s classic movie. Both clearly relish the daftness and the inspiration of the story, praising the performances and the production values whilst being able to poke some good-natured fun at the silliness of it all. De Valle picks up on nuances that Hedison brings to the part that, in all honesty, the actor probably had no idea he was even making.
There is a look at the film’s most famous player in Biography: Vincent Price from 1997, and this runs for 44 minutes and brings in lots of participants and takes a fine look at the star’s career, with plentiful clips, stills, anecdotes and behind-the-scenes snippets. Although this is a release of The Fly, this documentary is well worth your time and effort.
In Fly Trap: Catching a Classic we get a brief (11.30 mins) but packed look at not only the original movie but its two sequels, with an array of contributors discussing the ongoing legacy of the trilogy. Good stuff, although I would have liked more on the actual special effects.
The film also gets its Theatrical Trailer and, in one of those neat little extras that we used to find on a lot of Warner discs, a night at the theatre is recaptured with Fox Movietone News.
Is The Fly (1958) Worth BuyingOutstandingly remade by David Cronenberg, you can still see all the angles of emotion, psychology, horror, complexity and philosophical moralising displayed in this vintage original version.
There is some indelible imagery here, as well as some enjoyable but unavoidably hokey material. The film was a huge success and tied-in with Hollywood’s obsession with bad science and audience’s perennial fear of insects. The combination of emotion and body-horror was a new angle to exploit and one that worked surprisingly well. Without the believable chemistry between David Hedison and Patricia Owens the film would have been little more than a one-note creature feature coming in at the tail-end of the big bug cycle. As it stands, we do actually care about the couple and the situation lingers in the mind as a truly horrible one for all concerned.
Fox’s production was a lavish one. The Cinemascope image is presented with fine colours and good levels of detail, and the original ambitious stereo sound is given an agreeable lossless 4.0 mix here. The extras provide some hearty and entertaining background into the making of the film and even if they make an understandable veering towards to Vincent Price, who is not the star of the film, the commentary and the retro-making-of offer much to savour for fans of such classic genre fare.
The full Fly Trilogy is an unusual series, with the middle entry really only for completists, but I would definitely love to seeCurse of the Fly finding its strange and mutated way onto Blu. For now, of course, Kurt Neumann’s classic comes highly recommended.
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