Friday, October 26, 2012

The Fly

(1958) ****1/2

From the start, you already know it's not going to end well - as Crystal Math pointed out in her review. The Fly is told almost entirely in flashback, and after it's already been confirmed that the man with his head and arm crushed flat-as-flat-can-be in the hydraulic press is indeed Andre Delambre. One of the most powerful magic tricks the film is able to pull off is stoking our hope throughout the flashback. And even beyond, there's the nagging hope that somehow things might get set right somehow. But that's all I have to say about that.

This is the first time I've ever seen this version. I chased it with a screening of the 1986 Cronenberg remake (which I had seen as a kid), and was thoroughly impressed with the level of subtext in both. Again, nod to Crystal, she's not overinterpreting the business about the lonely life of a scientist's wife. For what it's worth though, the...thing that's above the subtext...what would you call that? Oh -- the *text*. That. Anyway, the *text* of Helene Delambre's character is that she's married to (pretty definitively) the world's greatest scientist. Sure, life's gotta be lonely only seeing your beloved when you're bringing him his dinner. But she's obviously starstruck by his brilliance - understandably so. They're pretty young, so who knows where that relationship would have gone a decade later? Not covered in The Fly, but covered pretty well in Coldplay's The Scientist.

But that wasn't what really got me. What really got me was the question of what sort of battle is going on for the mind and soul of the Delambrefly. Who exactly is calling the shots up there? And how rapidly is power changing...hands? The most colorful portrayal of this interplay is literally a struggle between Andre's fly hand and his human hand. The fly hand seems to act without Andre's conscious will -- which maybe isn't so strange because it's the *fly's* head (and brain?) at the top of Andre's body. Look at the picture above. Moments earlier, Andre's fly hand had drifted up to join his human hand in caressing Helene's sleeping face. So, in that moment, was that Andre in control and absentmindedly touching her with both hands? Or is it the fly's, what? Lust?


Anyway, Andre struggles to keep the fly side of his split psyche down, and then gives up when it finally becomes clear to him that his human side is losing. But check out which hand is trying to run interference on the other when Andre sets about destroying his work...

I love that. I don't even understand it and I love it. Maybe it's the fly saying, "Fuck you, Delambre. You're going to put me back in my real body. Stop making that impossible." Maybe it's just that flies are crazy and difficult. Who knows? That topic gets delved into more deeply (and brilliantly so) in Cronenberg's film. But that's not to take anything away from the original. It doesn't get the reverence extended to Dracula and Frankenstein, but it has earned the right to be mentioned in the same sentence.


Catfreeek said...

So happy to see this classic getting some much deserved attention. Great observations about the fly hand, loved this review.

Crystal Math said...

The fly hand was hilarious to me, like they could have their own comedy routine (similar to Clint Eastwood and the chair). Glad you gave this one a viewing!

Octopunk said...

Excellent rundown, 50. "Delambrefly," ha!

I'm so amped to see this movie get some love I just retro-added my pre-blog 2004 review of The Fly here.

I also added it to the Monster List, but only after I added 50's.