Kurt Neumann's original 1958 version of The Fly was way better than I thought it would be. I expected the usual 1950's monster movie, something along the lines of the stuff you would see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There is some camp, of course, but there are some genuinely creepy moments, the characters are three dimensional, and the narrative structure is quite smart.
The story begins in a factory, where the body of Andre, a scientist, has been found, his head and arm crushed in a pressing machine. We meet the scientist's brother Francois, played by Vincent Price, and his wife, Helene, who was at the scene of the crime, and under suspicion for murder. They are unsure if she is insane or just faking it. After earning her trust, Francois gets Helene to tell the story of the events leading up to the incident.
In flashback, we learn that Andre was developing a matter transporting machine. He excitedly shows it to his wife, demonstrating it on an ashtray. When it dissipates and appears in another chamber, the letters on the bottom are all jumbled up, so apparently it still needs work. After fixing it, he tries it on the family's cat. It disappears and never reappears. It's one of the creepier moments in the movie, when you just hear the cat's seemingly tortured cry coming from nowhere. Finally, sure he's fixed it, Andre tests his matter transporter on himself. Unfortunately, a fly gets in with him and their bodies are crossed with each other.
The movie is told from Helene's point of view. She is unsure what has happened to Andre, just that he refuses to leave his lab and speaks to her through notes. When she finally does see him, he has his head covered up by a cloth, which is also creepy. She finally learns that the fly has his head and one of his arms, and the only hope of returning him to normal is to find that fly. She and her son and the maid all go on a hunt for a fly with a white head, before Andre loses his grip on his humanity and becomes a monster.
I liked the slow reveal of Andre in fly form. It's sort of like how you don't see the shark in Jaws until the end, just glimpses. This works the same way, where you know whatever is under that sheet is horrifying, and when you finally do see it, well, it's kind of fake looking but it looks pretty great for the 1950's.
I won't spoil the ending, of course, but since you know that Andre's head and arm are smashed from the very beginning, you know it can't end well. I actually can't believe they got away with the way they ended the movie. Or the whole pressing machine thing. The movie is pretty gruesome for its time, and unsettling.
I enjoy being surprised by a movie like The Fly. I had already written it off as B-movie fare before even watching it, and it wound up being genuinely good. It's nice when one's preconceived notions are proven pleasantly wrong.