A nightwatchman at an engineering plant in France is going about his rounds when he suddenly hears a mechanical press spring into life. Going over to investigate, he catches sight of a woman hurrying away, but then notices that there is a body sticking out of the press, its head and arm utterly crushed. The police are called, and meanwhile the owner of the factory, François Delambre (Vincent Price), is woken by a telephone call from his sister-in-law Helene (Patricia Owens) urgently asking him to come over and see her. These two events are connected - but how?
One of the true "monster" hits of 1958, The Fly was blessed with a brilliantly horrible notion at its core, taken as it was from George Langelaan's short story of the previous year. Yet though even at the time audiences must have known the secret of the film's horror, James Clavell's script set the tale out like a mystery, keeping quiet about precisely what has happened to the Delambre family that has sent Helene round the bend and her husband Andre (David Hedison, not a fan of this film) to the press to finish his life with crushing (!) inevitablity.
Helene is acting undeniably oddly, so could she have been driven insane? wonders François and the police inspector on the case, Charas (Herbert Marshall). She fully admits to squashing her husband, even though she had no prior knowledge of how to operate the machinery, and is now acting as if she does not recognise her own son, Philippe (Charles Herbert). But it is all an act after all, and finally François sits down with her after lying that he has found a fly with a white head that she is curiously preoccupied with. So it is that she relates a story that sounds hard to believe, but fits right into the fifties cycle of science going bad, here at its most grotesque.
One shimmery effect later and we are in a flashback. Andre was a pioneering scientist who had devised his own matter transmitting devices: two of them, one to dematerialise the subject and another to put it back together a few yards away across the lab, behind a sliding door. He admitted he didn't fully understand how the invention worked, but after ironing out a few problems, such as reversing the objects and making his first live subject, the pet cat, disappear into the ether, he feels ready to transmit himself. Here is where the wholesome nuclear family, a typical Hollywood convention even though this is set in France, for no good reason other than it was the setting of the original, is twisted into horror.
If you don't know why, then I'm reluctant to spoil it, but the title should be a dead giveaway. Although the direction by Kurt Neumann (who tragically never lived to see this as the huge success it was, committing suicide shortly after the film's premiere) is matter of fact until the big terror sequences, the sense of decency and respectability being contorted by one man's grasping for powers beyond the norm is an intense one, and when Andre begins pushing typewritten notes under the door of his lab to inform Helene that there has been an accident, the dread is potent. The hunt is on for that fly, and the film skirts close to outright absurdity where the importance of the insect leads the characters to overreact whenever buzzing is heard on the soundtrack. Then there's that finale, one of the weirdest of the era: they may stick a happy coda on the end, but it's the simultaneously funny and disturbing "Help me! Help me!" that you'll remember. Music by Paul Sawtell.
German director who came to Hollywood in the early-talkie era and soon established himself as a competent, economic film-maker. Moved from studio to studio directing in a variety of genres, but it was his love of sci-fi that led to his best films - The Fly, Kronos and Rocketship X-M.