Monday, 19 September 2011

Kurt Neumann's The Fly (1958)

Fig. 1 The Fly Poster.

The 1958 film The Fly directed by Kurt Neumann tells the story of the accidental merging of human and fly atoms through a teleportation device, couched in a murder mystery. The transformation of human into a fly-headed and -armed creature as a direct result of carelessness and meddling in the realm of the gods harkens back to Greek mythology, in which proud humans were punished by being made into animals.

Fig. 2 Andre-Fly shot.

 The concept of ‘karmic’ retribution for seeking to elevate oneself or humanity as a whole over a deity is one echoed in much science fiction, perhaps most notably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Fly in particular refers to contemporary fears of the rapid development of technology, and touches on the idea that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. However, the movie is adamant that Andre, the unfortunate scientist, was still right to pursue his course of action, as it describes him ‘as an explorer like Columbus, who sacrificed himself for the sake of discovering something that would benefit future generations’ (Biodrowski, 2007).

The movie contrasts Andre’s unpleasant fate to the idyllic home life of Andre and his wife Helene (Patricia Owens). The husband-and-wife relationship is set up as loving and devoted long before the accident even happens, investing the viewer in them and thus making the eventual transformation and mercy killing all the more dreadful. Howard Thompson noted that ‘most appealing of all, however, is the compassion blended in with the suspense when something terrible happens in Mr. Hedison's basement laboratory.’ (Thompson, 1958), explaining perfectly the appeal of the movie.

Andre-Fly and Helene shot.

Rather than a simple monster flick, The Fly looks at what it means to be human, and at what point a transformed monster ceases to be human. Even as Andre’s mind begins to degenerate into that of a fly, Helene remains faithful to him and desperately tries to help him until she finally sees what has actually become of her husband, by which point it is clear to both her and the viewer that death is preferable to a hybrid, mindless existence.

Except for at the very beginning there is little gore in the film – Andre’s transformation is shown off-screen to facilitate a later reveal – as the focus is more on the ‘a profound horror in the psychological implications of a tragic series of events’ (Sponseller, 2001). Not only is Andre deeply ashamed of his metamorphosed body, but the metamorphosis has a profound impact on his psyche, slowly destroying his human cognition. In the end Andre chooses to die rather than to become a monster, a painfully human act in stark contract with the physical beast he had become.

List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Neumann, Kurt (1958) The Fly Poster. At: (Accessed on 19/09/11)
Figure 2. Andre-Fly shot. (1958) From: The Fly Directed by: Kurt Neumann. [film still] USA: 20th Century Fox
Figure 3. Andre-Fly and Helene shot. (1958) From: The Fly Directed by: Kurt Neumann. [film still] USA: 20th Century Fox

Biodrowski, S. (2007) Cinefantastique Online. (Accessed on 19/09/11)
 (Accessed on 19/09/11)
Thompson, H. (1958) The Screen: Hair-Raiser; ‘The Fly' Is New Bill at Local Theatres In: The New York Times. [online]  (Accessed on 19/09/11)
Sponseller, B. (2001) Classic Horror.  (Accessed on 19/09/11)

1 comment:

  1. MEG! This is such a satisfying first review - and I know it's fiddly, getting all the info archived etc., but this review looks very confident, with a great opening swathe of context. Context is everything, you see! Great stuff. I look forward to seeing what you make of the remake... :)