Friday, May 11, 2012

Micro Review [film]: The Fly (1958)

The Meat

There's an interesting thread that runs through many films from the 1940s and '50s, which is that because these films were not permitted to show blood or gore, they seem to operate in a narrative world where blood and gore don't exist. The 1947 Edward Dmytryk film Crossfire is a notable example. It's about the investigation into the bigotry-fueled beating death of a Jewish guy that appears to have been committed by one of three soldiers. In the real world, you could look at all of the suspects' hands and see which one has the bloody, swollen knuckles. But in this world where blood seemingly doesn't exist, it requires a complex police investigation and some fancy sleuthing. The big narrative question of The Fly hinges on the same type of foolishness.

The film begins with Helene Delambre smashing her husband Andre in a hydraulic press, and when the police are summoned, she starts raving about flies. We are supposed to wonder "What's going on here? Why did Helene murder her husband?" Through a long flashback, Helene explains to Andre's brother Francois (Vincent Price) -- who seems totally cool with the fact that this crazy woman just smashed his brother into blood pudding -- that Andre had accidentally turned himself into a half-man/half-fly monstrosity through a science experiment gone wrong, and in his last moment of human clarity, Andre asked her to smush him. Her story naturally meets with skepticism. But here's the thing: if dude was really half-fly, I don't care how squashed he was, any intern would be able to tell that the big mess they have to sieve out of the hydraulic press had something seriously not-right going on with it.

Because The Fly lacks a strong narrative push and feels like it's simply ticking down the 90 minutes necessary to get us back to the part of the story we already saw and know is coming, these are the kinds of questions I found myself asking as each stream that crossed the narrative path was forded by nonsense. It's not that it's a bad movie, especially when compared to so many of its contemporaries, it's just that it's a very mediocre movie.

The Math

Objective Quality: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for the early anamorphic widescreen photography; +1 for the "Help meeeee! Help meeeee!" cries of the giant fly-man's tiny counterpart

Penalties: -1 for woefully under-utilizing Vincent Price in his heyday; -1 for the family's interminable pursuit of a fly through the kitchen, living room, and garden of the Delambre house

Cult Value Coefficient: 5/10

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]