The Fly (Kurt Neumann / U.S., 1958):

Kurt Neumann has a metamorphosis of his own to investigate, yet the buzzing heard over the credits is the "intolerable hissing of the father" Kafka wrote of, unmistakably. The housewife (Patricia Owens) has presently crushed her husband’s skull, serene madness ("euphoria") is the tone of the tale that is told, "not a confession" but a fable of marital dedication and flies in ointments. The scientist (Al Hedison) craves infinite knowledge, his major breakthrough -- a transporter of matter -- tests his limits once the experiment splits him in two: One half is a desperate man stuck with an insectoid head and limb (a black towel cloaks the offending parts from family members), the other is an elusive housefly with a miniaturized human face crying into the maws of a hungry spider. Why this obsession with insects, asks the suspect’s brother-in-law (Vincent Price), as if finally noticing the Buñuelian air all around. "It’s perhaps symbolic of something deep in her subconscious," posits the police inspector (Herbert Marshall) wanly, "no science-fiction enthusiast." The muted thud of the steam press and the squishy gore that follows, the interiors out of Dial M for Murder, the disintegrated cat’s spectral meowing: every absurdity is offered and deciphered by Neumann with such calm as to become hallucinatory. A lovely Montreal home with a lab-dungeon in its bowels hints at The Phantom of the Opera, the climactic unmasking removes all doubt. (The heroine’s screaming face fragmented and multiplied by the insect’s compound eye is a pulsing effect, a Warhol silkscreen.) The comedy of images and objects and creatures being atomically diffused and scrambled in subtle jibes at TV, the tragedy of a searcher battling with his own clutching arm while trying to scrawl "love" on a blackboard. "It’d be funny if life weren’t so sacred." Cronenberg’s take three decades later is less remake than critique. With Charles Herbert and Kathleen Freeman.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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