Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Return of the Fly (1959)

After the unhappy death of his mother, Philippe Delambre's (Brett Halsey) uncle Francois (Vincent Price) finally tells the young man the truth about the mysterious death of his father, fly head and all, as seen in The Fly. The whole fly head business would rather explain Philippe's phobia of flies, one assumes. Instead of following Francois's warnings to not follow in his dad's footsteps in Tampering in God's Domain™ - or words to that effect - Philippe now decides to go all out and finish the experiments his father started.

It makes sense, too, for Delambre senior did after all invent a fully functioning matter transmitter, not a thing to sneeze at even when it is not safe to use on organic matter. Amazon drones are nothing compared to it. Not that anyone involved with film would have noticed. Unfortunately, Philippe partners with the wrong guy. Alan Hinds (David Frankham) turns out not only to be that most horrible of things, British(!), but also a gangster out to steal the Delambre family invention.

Of course, when Philippe realizes all is not well with his supposed friend and partner, he soon ends up in his own matter transmitter, sharing the space with a fly the rather nasty Alan deposits there. A fly person rampage ensues, and it falls on the shoulders of Francois and a Inspector Beecham (John Sutton) to save the young man-fly.

Where other reviewers seem to see Return of the Fly as some kind of insult to the original movie (I can't help but ask myself if they've seen a different original movie than I have, for the first Fly isn’t exactly a deep work of art either), to me Edward Bernds's movie is a fine example of how to use a miniscule budget well, if not ambitiously.

The plot is of course very silly, but then, show me a SF/horror movie of this era – or really any era - where that's not a given. The screenplay does turn the silliness of the proceedings into a well-paced and tight little film of the kind that knows what you can do on a limited scope and how to do it well. From time to time, it even manages to suggest a bit more complexity to its characters than generally typical of its time and place, and adds some mildly macabre flourishes to spice things up, like making "Alan"'s criminal middle man a mortician (cue fun and games with a coffin and a sheeted body, because there’s nothing horror movies love to play around with than death). It's not much, but it does provide the film with character and suggests a degree of imagination beyond the obvious “oh hey, let’s make a Fly sequel”.

I'm also quite happy with every film from the 50s that does neither feature a square-jawed hero (here, we get Vincent Price and a rather sober cop instead), nor a monotonous off-screen narrator, nor the traditional icky romance. There is a bit of the latter here, though the romance isn't icky, and it's not used as filler to additionally frighten the audience with horrifying ideas about men and women.

As a further attraction, there's Vincent Price in one of his always appreciated good guy outings, a situation Price always seemed to relish quite a bit, with Return of the Fly no exception. Though really, Price made the impression of relishing whatever he did in most of his films, far from the bored kind of performances you’d get out of – say – Christopher Lee more often than not.

Here, Price is in fact the film's true hero, and Price admirer that I am, it would need a film to be much less competent and entertaining than Return of the Fly is to turn me off.

No comments: