The Fly (1958) is a charming period piece. Its look screams "fifties"; we might as well be watching I Love Lucy. It doesn't get dirty and icky like David Cronenberg's remake, but instead presents a teasing, enigmatic mystery in which a lady admits to having killed her husband but won't say why. There's lots of build-up which, to be honest, would have worked far better if we didn't already know the story. The Fly (1958) is one of those movies, like Psycho or The Crying Game, that would pack a hell of a punch if only cultural osmosis hadn't leaked its big surprise years ago.
But even knowing everything in advance, one can still admire the delicacy with which the movie puts together its clues. It takes its time building up to the story (which is good) but is equally leisurely about winding down afterwards (which is less good). Personally I'd have cut five minutes from the end, but I'll admit that those concluding five minutes include one truly chilling image. Overall it's a sweet film.
Unfortunately the acting isn't good. David Hedison is wooden as Andre Delambre and even Vincent Price seems off his game. Worst is a dreadful ten-year-old, Charles Herbert, who did lots of films in the late fifties before thankfully disappearing from the industry. (He didn't return for either sequel, thank God.) James Bond trivia... David Hedison was also the only actor to play Felix Leiter in two Bond films: Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill. The Fly was his second film role.
The fifties-ness is always good for a laugh. David Hedison gets long-winded utopian technobabble, characteristic of the fifties' schizophrenic attitude to science. They expected unlimited free energy and a rocket car in every garage, but they also lived in terror of these new-fangled atom bombs. Vincent Price even gets a little speech on What Can Happen To Scientists Who Aren't Careful at the end. I also loved the wacky teleporter (never named as such). It's all blinding lights and funky neon, managing to avoid that Dan Dare retro fifties look without resembling anything we'd conceive of today.
Like Cronenberg's remake it's a love story, but in every other respect it's a completely different film. Its shocks are low-key, but keeping everything at a domestic level gives it a realistic edge which Cronenberg's fantastical material couldn't achieve. It's obviously of its era but its psychological strengths mean that it never feels silly or dated, unlike other fifties films I could mention. I'd love to show this to someone who's never heard of The Fly just to gauge their reaction, but even to a knowledgeable modern viewer it's a quaint but clever film.