Archive for April, 2011

Au Revoir, Colette

Long before Audrey (Amélie) Tautou portrayed the young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in Coco Before Chanel (2009), Marie-France Pisier essayed the role in Chanel Solitaire (1981), which I quite enjoyed when I first saw it under rather unusual circumstances. I was on an ocean liner, accompanying an elderly aunt on a cruise around Norway, and since few (if any) of the other passengers were below retirement age, the movies they screened were a welcome diversion, and I even managed to befriend the projectionist. As I recall, the film held up less well when I saw it again years later, but without reflecting badly on the beauty or talent of La Pisier, and it marked early encounters with Rutger Hauer and Timothy Dalton, who would shortly be important to me.

Pisier has apparently drowned in her own swimming pool at the age of 66, and although I wasn’t familiar with most of the films she made in her 48 years on the screen, her debut alone makes her worthy of inclusion here on BOF. In “Antoine and Colette,” François Truffaut’s segment of the anthology film Love at Twenty (1962), she starred opposite Jean-Pierre Léaud as the first love of Truffaut’s alter-ego, Antoine Doinel (introduced in 1959 in The 400 Blows, one of the films that launched the French New Wave). After an uncredited appearance in Antoine’s next “adventure,” Stolen Kisses (1968)—my favorite of Truffaut’s films to date—she reprised the character in, and even co-wrote, the fifth and final Doinel entry, Love on the Run (1979), which I have yet to see.

Although Pisier failed to establish herself with such American productions as the Sidney Sheldon adaptation The Other Side of Midnight (1977) and the TV miniseries The French Atlantic Affair (1979) and Scruples (1980), she had greater success at home. There, she was able to work with Luis Buñuel and Jacques Rivette, respectively, in The Phantom of Liberty and Celine and Julie Go Boating (both 1974), and enjoyed great commercial success with Cousin Cousine (1975). I searched in vain through my copy of Truffaut by Truffaut for some bon mot regarding Pisier with which to close this post, but found only photos capturing her radiant beauty, most notably the one from Love on the Run that is reproduced here, so let it serve as a far better epitaph than my poor words.

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Givens and Take

I’ve been boning up on the literary exploits of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in Elmore Leonard’s Pronto and Riding the Rap (although I’ve yet to score a copy of “Fire in the Hole,” the nominal basis for Justified, in his collection When the Women Come Out to Dance), with an eye toward comparing them with the first-season DVD I just bought, and possibly blogging about the whole thing.  Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a blog with the memorable name of Existential Ennui and discovered that its author, Nick Jones, had beaten to me to the punch with a four-part post that starts here.  I’m man enough to admit that he’s probably done a better job than I could, so I’ll just bow out gracefully and urge you to read his excellent series on Givens.

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Drax has correctly pointed out that The Sunday Drax evolved into Hexes: The Sunday Spectra.  What I neglected to clarify was how much I loved the name of “The Sunday Drax,” which to me had overwhelmingly evoked—and thus tied in perfectly with my item on—Pogo.  We regret any misimpression.

It should be noted, first, that I used the exact edition of Conjure Wife depicted in today’s Hexes while writing my section on Matheson’s adaptation Night of the Eagle and, second, that Peter Saxon was also the author of The Disorientated Man, filmed as Scream and Scream Again.

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In the grand tradition of the late, lamented Sunday Drax, here’s a BOF buffet of unrelated items:

  • Those of you who, like me, enjoy fond memories of the immortal comic strip Pogo (written and drawn by Walt Kelly from 1948 until his death in 1973), and won’t rest until there is a Complete Pogo to accompany the volumes of The Complete Peanuts gradually accumulating on my shelf, will appreciate this.  The other day I stumbled across the “online reading journal” Hal’s Quotes & Notes, which has a whole section devoted to Kelly.  Those unfamiliar with the strip may find its Southern-fried dialogue a little perplexing at first, and of course you need the visuals for the full experience, but it’s a great way for Pogophiles to relive some of those memorable moments.
  • For decades, people have entertained themselves by looking for connections between Patrick McGoohan’s great series Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) and its maybe-kinda-sorta sequel The Prisoner, especially as they apply to the whole “Is John Drake Number Six?” parlor game.  I’ve recently resumed working my way through my complete collection of Secret Agent DVDs and, by a curious coincidence, in both of the first two episodes I watched, “That’s Two of Us Sorry” and “Such Men Are Dangerous,” Drake used the omnipresent Prisoner catchphrase “Be seeing you.”  Make of that what you will; for myself, I’m of the belief that Number Six is indeed Drake.
  • Matheson completists, take note!  For years, one of the Holy Grails of elusive items was “The New House,” his pilot for the William Castle-produced anthology series Ghost Story, which left a conspicuous hole in Richard Matheson on Screen until my main man Gilbert Colon saved the day—as usual—by acquiring a crappy gray-market DVD for me.  Yesterday I finally got a copy of its legit release as an extra on the Mr. Sardonicus disc in The William Castle Film Collection (much as I resent having to pay through the nose for the entire set just to get that, since it’s not on Columbia’s stand-alone Sardonicus DVD), and can’t wait to see a decent copy of this thing.
  • Last but far from least, it’s a crime that Sutton Foster isn’t a household name…although, to be fair, our showbiz-savvy choir director tells me that she IS one in Broadway circles.  Last night, Madame BOF and I had the pleasure of attending Roundabout’s revival of Anything Goes, part of a package we signed up for this season, which I expected would be piffle punctuated by great Cole Porter songs.  Well…it is, but with Foster’s outstanding singing, dancing, acting, and looks headlining a cast that includes Joel Grey and Jessica (Play Misty for Me) Walter, we were mighty glad of our second-row orchestra seats; this review by Ben Brantley is absolutely on the money.

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Many factors led me to start writing Richard Matheson on Screen in 1997, only the most obvious one of which was my growing obsession with Matheson’s work.  I did not record for posterity the date when I conceived or started working on it, but if I’d known it would take thirteen years, I would have erected a plaque in what was then my office at the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment, where the book was born.  My job as copy manager entailed a lot of down time, or I never would have attempted it, and I was going through some personal stuff that made it desirable to channel my energies in a productive direction.  In addition, I had already interviewed Matheson and some of his friends and fellow writers, and written introductions to limited editions of several of his novels.

The most specific impetus was the slow-motion train wreck of a proposed Matheson biography that he initially cooperated with but ultimately, and wisely, disowned.  The author (who shall remain nameless) was someone I’d known from my years as a book publicist and—due to my excitement over an actual book about Matheson, unprecedented at that time—foolishly tried to help.  Luckily, his editor was a friend of mine, and when he showed me an early draft of the manuscript I saw that the author had plagiarized my introductions, among other things, which is one reason why it was cancelled and later self-published.  It was during this fiasco that I hit on the idea of writing my own Matheson book, albeit with a focus more suited to my longstanding interest in the relationship between literature and film.

In 2003, I met Simon Drax as a fellow commuter from Bethel to Manhattan, and had been working on the book for about six years.  Around that time I also embarked upon the first of several related projects that repeatedly sidetracked my own when I agreed to edit Matheson’s Duel & The Distributor for Gauntlet.  Imagine my surprise after I learned that Drax was not only a fellow writer and publishing professional, but also an honest-to-God Matheson fan who took a genuine interest in my work.  When The Danbury News-Times wanted to do a story on Duel & The Distributor, it was Drax who brought his camera over to GoodTimes to snap the shot of me that accompanied the article…and now graces this blog.

Drax was then working on his own long-gestating book, the magnificent prose-manga epic Doomtroopers (more on that in a moment), and while riding the rails together we struck up the most congenial creative interplay imaginable.  I did not and do not own a laptop, so I would sit relentlessly poring over printouts of the day’s work, while across the aisle Drax was furiously typing away on his Mac.  We would critique each other’s efforts, and I had the honor of reading Doomtroopers almost literally as it flowed forth from his fingertips.  It was a heady, fruitful time.

Drax’s love for Matheson in general and I Am Legend in particular, his fascination with the seemingly endless saga of my writing the book (interrupted again when I was pressed into service as the co-editor of The Richard Matheson Companion and its revised version, The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson), and his equally endless creativity inspired him to write a unique pastiche.  Its title a play on the first film version of I Am Legend, “The Last Manuscript on Earth” had me mysteriously appearing in the depopulated L.A. hitherto occupied only by Robert Neville and a horde of vampires, clutching my now-completed magnum opus and, as usual, proselytizing about Matheson.

While artistic license led Drax to mischaracterize my work in progress a bit, overall it was a touchingly personal tribute and a hilariously dead-on evocation of Matheson’s style, although Drax was more than a little chagrined when I sent it to the man himself and received a comment along the lines of, “Cute.”  Corporate layoffs ended our time together on the train, but I eventually finished my book, and am thrilled to announce that the Kindle edition of Drax’s Doomtroopers is now available here.  Other projects will undoubtedly ensue for both of us, and we will continue to reach across the aisle, in spirit if not in fact.  I couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion—it’s been a hell of a ride.

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Eyes Without a Face

On the occasion of Georges Franju’s 99th birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face, aka The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus; 1959) prefigured several films in which scientists denude women while attempting to restore scarred beauties.  Director Franju (1912-1987) had drawn notice with his slaughterhouse documentary Le Sang des Bêtes (The Blood of Beasts, 1949), and later made the offbeat thriller Judex (1963).

The screenplay was adapted by Jean Redon from his own novel, in collaboration with Franju, Claude Sautet, Pierre Gascar, and the famed crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.  The work of Boileau-Narcejac, as the team was known, was the basis for classic films such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).

Alida Valli, who had appeared in Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947) and opposite Orson Welles in The Third Man (1949), is Louise, the nurse of Prof. Génessier (Pierre Brassuer), who dumps a faceless victim in the river.  When it is found, Génessier misidentifies the body as that of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob), to allay any suspicions regarding her disappearance.

Wearing a featureless white mask, Christiane has been a virtual prisoner in the house ever since her face was badly burned in a car crash caused by her father.  Lured there on the pretext of renting a room, Edna Gruberg (Juliette Mayniel) is chloroformed and, in a scene that still shocks today, Génessier removes her face—in full view of the camera—and grafts it onto Christiane.

The bandaged Edna knocks Louise unconscious and frees herself, but dies in a fall from a window, either committing suicide or attempting to escape.  Christiane, who must don the mask again when the operation proves only temporarily successful, cannot resist calling her fiancé (also her father’s assistant), Dr. Jacques Vernon (François Guérin), who believes she is dead.

He informs Insp. Parot (Alexandre Rignault), who forces a shoplifter, Paulette Mérondon (Béatrice Altariba), to serve as bait, and after a visit to the clinic she is abducted.  As her father prepares to operate, Christiane frees Paulette, stabs Louise with a scalpel, and releases a pack of hungry dogs that, ironically, tear off Génessier’s face before she wanders away into the night.

Scob’s Christiane is a fragile, ethereal creature, who hates her horrifying visage but hates what must be done to repair it even more, and becomes convinced that the repeated operations will never cure her permanently.  Eugen Shuftan’s gorgeous cinematography emphasizes the contrast between her delicate, angelic appearance in the mask and the horrors in Génessier’s lab.

At once poetic and gruesome, with a lovely Maurice Jarre score capturing its conflicting moods, Les Yeux Sans Visage easily outshines its successors.  These include Seddok—l’Erede di Satana (aka Atom Age Vampire, 1960), Jesús Franco’s Gritos en la Noche (Cries in the Night, aka The Awful Dr. Orloff, 1962)—as well as several sequels—and Corruption (aka Carnage, 1967).

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Dangers on a Train

Last night, only hours after posting my obituary on Sidney Lumet, I treated myself to a memorial viewing of Murder on the Orient Express, which may be my favorite of his films, certainly in my top five (along with 12 Angry Men, Fail-Safe, Network, and The Verdict).  It still holds up like a rock after many viewings, although I’ve had a soft spot for it since I saw it with my parents at the age of 11 when it was released.  Lumet was aided immeasurably by screenwriter Paul Dehn, who had the enviable task of adapting films from works by Ian Fleming (Goldfinger, 1964) and John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, 1965; Lumet’s The Deadly Affair, 1966) as well as Agatha Christie, and contributed  to all four sequels to the original Planet of the Apes (1968).

From the first frame, Richard Rodney Bennett’s score impresses with not only its excellence, but also the skillful way Bennet and Lumet use the music, as the jarring opening chords warn us that something mysterious and deadly is afoot.  Then it settles into a sophisticated piano theme suited to the lush 1930s setting as its incredible cast unspools:  leading man Albert Finney; pal Martin Balsam; suspects Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bissett, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, and Michael York; and victim Richard Widmark.  It crescendos as the title appears, and after the credits it shifts to uneasy strings over the eerie montage of the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping case (hear it all here).

As the film progresses, Lumet keeps it from getting too stage-bound by cross-cutting scenes in the compartments with exteriors of the Orient Express making its way through the countryside.  He and Bennett complement these visuals by giving the train its own theme, which cleverly starts slowly as the locomotive builds up steam while pulling out of the station, then picks up speed to a jaunty yet majestic pace.  And when Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Finney) finally reveals the solution to the case, which requires that we see events from earlier in the film a second time, Lumet again keeps things visually interesting by shooting the same action from different angles, rather than simply repeating the exact same footage we saw before; it’s a very effective device.

Finney, Dehn, and Bennett all scored Oscar nominations, as did costume designer Tony Walton and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, yet only Bergman took home the gold for her role as a “backwards” Swedish missionary.  Why her halting speeches about “little brown babies” were considered Best Supporting Actress material might be considered as big a mystery as the titular murder, but less so than why Finney didn’t win.  I have so far read about two-thirds of Christie’s three-dozen-odd books about Poirot, and it’s my informed opinion that Finney, almost literally unrecognizable, embodied a literary character as few actors have, and could have stepped off the page (a feeling I also got when Ian Carmichael played Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey).

While others tried their hands at the star-studded Christie adaptation in the years to come, it was clear when Death on the Nile (1978) devolved from Lumet and Finney onto John Guillermin—fresh (?) from the travesty of the Dino De Laurentiis King Kong (1976)—and Peter Ustinov that lightning would not strike twice in the same place.  At least the cast and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer kept that one afloat, as it were, and Ustinov went on to play M. Poirot five more times on screens both large and small, although he came nowhere near to inhabiting the role as Finney had done.  But The Mirror Crack’d (1980), with Angela Lansbury seemingly well cast as Christie’s other main sleuth, Miss Marple, was reputedly such a fiasco that to this day I haven’t subjected myself to it.

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Goodbye, Sidney

Statements of the “a giant has left us” nature are all too common, but I’m afraid Sidney Lumet’s death today at 86 in his beloved Manhattan—the setting for so many of his films—merits no less.  Like The GREAT John Frankenheimer, he was one of the most notable directors to emerge from the Golden Age of live television, working on such series as Danger, You Are There, The United States Steel Hour, The Alcoa Hour, and Goodyear Playhouse.  Each man made his feature-film debut with a remake of one of his television dramas, but unlike TGJF, Lumet knocked it out of the park his first time at bat in the gripping courtroom (jury room?) drama 12 Angry Men (1957).

The auspicious nature of 12 Angry Men cannot be overstressed, starting with its to-die-for cast, headed by Henry Fonda as the sole juror who questions the defendant’s guilt.  Arrayed against him in this lonely quest are Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Edward Binns, Lee J. Cobb, John Fiedler (in his film debut), Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Joseph Sweeney (the only one I couldn’t have identified by name), George Voskovec, Jack Warden, and Robert Webber.  Klugman spoofed it on The Odd Couple, in the episode explaining how Oscar met Felix, and Fiedler not only guest-starred in two episodes of the series (as other characters), but also had played Vinnie in the film.

I’m not going to devote as much space to every film Lumet made, nor will I enumerate them all, but damn, he had a lot of amazing credits in a filmography that is characterized by an impressive diversity of style and subject matter, as well as his top-notch collaborators.  For example, Fonda, who reportedly requested Lumet for Men based on the TV version, rejoined him for Stage Struck (1958), the remake of Katharine Hepburn’s classic Morning Glory (1933), and Fail-Safe (1964), the straight-faced mirror image of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964).  Lumet even tried his hand at documentary features with King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970).

Stage Struck  was but the first of several stage adaptations, e.g., The Fugitive Kind (1960), which I’ve yet to see, starring Marlon Brando and co-adapted by Tennessee Williams from his Orpheus Descending.  Kate herself signed up for Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962), opposite theatrical mainstays Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards, while Lumet gave Chekhov a whirl in The Sea Gull (1968), featuring James Mason and Vanessa Redgrave.  Less successful, in my book, were his adaptations of more modern Broadway hits the likes of The Wiz (1978) and Deathtrap (1982), although I’ve never seen Lumet’s Equus (1977), so I cannot comment on that.

Known as an actor’s director, Lumet got an Oscar-nominated performance out of Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker (1964), although Steiger didn’t win until Norman Jewison’s outstanding In the Heat of the Night (1967).  Lumet had to settle for a 2005 Honorary Oscar despite nominations for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon (1975), the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted masterpiece Network (1976), Prince of the City (1981), and The Verdict (1982).  Like Serpico (1973), which had first teamed Lumet with Dog star Al Pacino, Prince was about corrupt cops, while lead Paul Newman and screenwriter David Mamet helped The Verdict far outshine its source novel by Barry Reed.

One of Lumet’s most enduring collaborations was with Sean Connery, who repeatedly turned to him in an effort to shed his James Bond persona in such films as The Hill (1965), The Anderson Tapes (1971)—based on the novel by Lawrence Sanders—and The Offence (1972).  My favorite is the lavish Agatha Christie whodunit Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney heading an all-star cast in his uncanny embodiment of Hercule Poirot, plus a standout score by Richard Rodney Bennett.  Family Business (1989) seemed promising, but I just couldn’t buy the casting of Connery, Dustin Hoffman, and Matthew Broderick as three generations of criminals.

Other points of interest include The Deadly Affair (1966), based on the literary debut of John le Carré’s George Smiley, Call for the Dead; both that and Child’s Play (1972) starred Mason, who also appeared in The Verdict.  Lumet returned to the big-city-corruption beat in Q&A (1990) and Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), in between which he made a pair of duds:  A Stranger Among Us (1992), with Melanie Griffith improbably cast as a cop going undercover among the Hasidim, and Guilty as Sin (1933), which as I recall was way too similar to Jagged Edge (1985).  I’m less familiar with Lumet’s recent work, finishing with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).

My mother, who likes movies but is far less immersed in them than her crazy youngest son, used to ask me, “What’s the difference between a producer and a director?”  I used to fall back on the explanation (whose attribution I forget) that the director is responsible for what happens in front of the camera, and the producer for what happens behind it, until I read Lumet’s wonderful little book Making Movies and gave that to her as my answer.  Learning about the magic behind some of my favorite films from the guy who made them was a rare treat, so I urge readers to seek out said book, and let it stand alongside his cinematic oeuvre as the legacy of an irreplaceable artist.

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Tor.com Alert 4/7/11

Okay, let’s see:  yesterday was Wednesday, Wednesday.  Today is Thursday, Thursday.  Tomorrow is Friday.  And Saturday comes afterwards…but I digress.  It’s so easy to get distracted by great literature.  (Man, Steve Allen would have had a field day with that one.)

Be that as it may, you can still tune in to Tor.com for the latest, and possibly last, post in my Richard Matheson—Storyteller series, since there’s been no discussion of where we might go from here, although I’m sure if I had a brilliant suggestion they’d be up for it.  Today’s entry is my long-awaited (?) interview with Richard, spurred primarily by the publication of his critically praised new novel, Other Kingdoms.  But it’s also an overview of the recent, current, and forthcoming events in the multimedia world of You-Know-Who:  books, short stories, movies, and more, so if you want to know all about the latest from the greatest, you need look no further.  Bradley out.

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On the occasion of Kurt Neumann’s 103rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website (revised with corrections, addenda, and additional links on July 29, 2017).

Originally published in the June 1957 issue of Playboy (then an outlet for outstanding short fiction by the likes of Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson), George Langelaan’s “The Fly” won the magazine’s Best Fiction Award, and the rights were immediately acquired by Twentieth Century-Fox.  The story was faithfully adapted by first-time screenwriter James Clavell, later the author of the bestsellers Shogun and Tai-Pan.

Producer-director Neumann (1908-1958) had considerable experience in Hollywood, but very little in the SF genre, although he is notorious for his low-budget quickie Rocketship X-M (1950), which he also wrote.  Rushed into production to cash in on the publicity surrounding Destination Moon (1950), it beat producer George Pal’s more serious film into theaters by several months.

Fox financed and released the low-budget output from Robert L. Lippert’s Regal Films, including Neumann’s previous black-and-white genre efforts, She Devil and Kronos (both 1957).  But The Fly was given the full studio treatment, with lush color cinematography by Karl Struss, who shared an Oscar for Sunrise (1927) and was nominated for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).

Leading man Al Hedison would soon be better known as David Hedison, under which name he starred for several seasons opposite Richard Basehart on Irwin Allen‘s evergreen 1960s SF series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Hedison also has the distinction of being the first actor to play James Bond’s CIA pal, Felix Leiter, twice, in Live and Let Die (1973) and License to Kill (1989).

Third-billed Vincent Price already had one classic horror role under his belt, in House of Wax (1953), and soon came to dominate the genre for decades to come, most notably in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the ‘60s.  (Blessed with a self-deprecating sense of humor, he liked to relate the story of an overeager fan who mistook him for the title character in The Fly.)

The film starts as Helene Delambre (lovely Patricia Owens) summons her brother-in-law, François (Price), and admits to crushing her husband André (Hedison) in a hydraulic press—not once, but twice—yet won’t say why.  After finding André’s lab wrecked, and hearing their son Philippe (Charles Herbert) refer to a “special” fly, François returns to Helene to elicit the truth.

André had rashly used himself as a guinea pig to test his experimental matter transmitter, unaware that a fly accompanied him into the disintegrator.  When he emerged in the reintegrator, he had the head and arm of an oversized fly, and vice-versa, although Neumann wisely maintains the suspense by keeping André’s altered appearance beneath a black hood for much of the film.

Passing notes from his locked lab to Helene, André explains that he has had an accident, and seeks a fly with a white head, not knowing that Philippe had already caught such a fly and been unwittingly made to release it by Helene.  André tells her that his will is deteriorating in favor of the fly’s animal nature and, fearing for her safety, threatens to do away with himself.

Although her efforts to recapture the fly have failed, Helene persuades André to try going through the transmitter once more without it, and when he emerges, she optimistically yanks the hood from his head.  Only then is the work of Fox’s makeup artist, Ben Nye, revealed in all its glory, while in an equally memorable shot, Helene is shown from the fly’s multiple perspective.

Wrecking his lab and burning his notes, André orders Helene to kill the fly, if found, and to obliterate the evidence of his transformation in the press; his arm falls out on the first attempt, so poor Helene must repeat the process.  Not surprisingly, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) thinks she is insane, and arrests her…until Philippe summons Charas and François to the garden.

There, they find the fly trapped in a spider web, and Charas mercifully crushes it with a rock as the arachnid advances on its prey, which pitifully screams, “Help me!”  This scene still provides a jolt in many a viewer, although Price and Marshall literally had to act it out back to back, as they found themselves completely unable to deliver their dialogue with straight faces.

Sadly, Neumann died in between the premiere and the general release of The Fly, which became one of Fox’s biggest hits for that year, and earned a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation.  Its success demanded an immediate sequel, although Return of the Fly (1959) was downgraded to a black-and-white cheapie written and directed by Edward L. Bernds.

The sequel devolved onto Lippert’s outfit and—along with The Alligator People (1959), with which it was double-billed—was among their first productions after Regal was renamed Associated Producers Incorporated (API…hmmm).  Rewatching this recently, I had a micro-epiphany when I recognized the music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter as also having been used in The Last Man on Earth (1964), which coincidentally was one of the last API productions; sure wish I’d known that when I wrote Richard Matheson on Screen.

In light of his decades-long association with the Three Stooges, Bernds may seem an odd choice to helm a sequel to The Fly.  But his lengthy filmography does include the occasional, if undistinguished, SF film, such as World Without End (1956), Space Master X-7, the cult classic Queen of Outer Space (both 1958), and the Jules Verne adaptation Valley of the Dragons (1961).

After a reporter accosts Philippe at Helene’s funeral, this unearthing of family skeletons forces François to reveal the truth and show him André’s lab at the Delambre Frères foundry.  His intended cautionary tale has the opposite effect of increasing his nephew’s determination to follow in Dad’s footsteps, and Philippe essentially blackmails the dubious François into backing him financially by threatening to unload his half of the family business at any cost.

Bernds is a little sloppy with the details:  in the original, André’s lab (reportedly standing sets utilized in the sequel) is in his home rather than the foundry, and since Philippe soon relocates it to the family manse anyway, the change seems pointless.  Similarly, 15 years are said to have intervened, which would make the sequel set in 1973, and although Philippe is now played by the age-appropriate Brett Halsey, the only returning cast member, Price, looks about the same.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, illness prevented Marshall from reprising his role, rewritten as Charas’s colleague Inspector Beecham (John Sutton); script cuts supposedly also removed unspecified elements that had originally attracted Price to the project.

Hired as Philippe’s assistant, Dr. Alan Hinds (David Frankham, who appeared in Matheson‘s Master of the World and Tales of Terror) is revealed as fugitive killer Ronald Holmes, who plans to sell the technology using mortuary-based crony Max Berthold (big Dan Seymour, a literal heavy in several Bogart classics) as intermediary.  When Inspector Evans (Pat O’Hara), who has been trailing Holmes, catches him microfilming the plans, “Alan” bludgeons the ill-fated lawman and puts him through the machine, where Evans gets recombined with a guinea pig disintegrated earlier.

Holmes crushes the guinea pig (which has human hands), first with his shoe and then with a heavy piece of machinery; sends the rodent-clawed Evans into the river in a car trunk; and, when confronted by Philippe, repeats the process, sadistically including a fly, of which he knows his employer has a terrible dread, if not why.  This time, the story has a happier ending as the fly-headed Philippe eludes the trigger-happy police, finds his way to the mortuary, and kills both Berthold and Holmes (who wounded François while making his getaway) before being put back through the machine with the captured fly and “getting his head together.”

Unlike Hedison, who actually acted under the heavy makeup—little wonder that Michael Rennie, the distinguished star of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), declined the role—Halsey was relieved of that burden.  Hal Lierley’s makeup in the sequel, which dramatically increased the size of Philippe’s fly head to gigantic proportions (and added a fly leg), was sported by a stuntman, circus giant Ed Wolff, best known to genre fans for playing the title role in The Colossus of New York (1958).

Although their relationship to André et al. is unclear, the matter-transmitting Delambres made one final appearance in Curse of the Fly (1965), directed in England by Don Sharp, whose work for Hammer Films included Kiss of the Vampire (1963).  Here, the family is represented by Henri (Brian Donlevy) and his two sons, Martin (George Baker) and Albert (Michael Graham).

Harry Spalding’s complex script finds Martin, whose periodic bouts of aging are caused by inherited fly genes and controlled with a serum, marrying an escaped mental patient, Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray).  But, like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, he secretly has a wife already:  the deformed Judith (Mary Manson), who is locked up with two other failed Delambre experiments.

With the interest of the police piqued by the passport problems inherent in transporting between England and Canada, Martin and Henri send those other “mistakes” through together, forcing Albert to dispose of the resulting blob.  As the law closes in, Martin disintegrates Henri, not knowing that the disillusioned Albert has now smashed the reintegrator, and ages to death.

Langelaan’s idea was well served in a remake, The Fly (1986), with Jeff Goldblum as the ill-fated genius, Seth Brundle.  Director David Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue offer a more plausible scenario, with the transmitter splicing Seth’s genes to those of the fly, and mine the inherent tragedy as his lover, Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis, who utters the immortal line, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”), witnesses his degeneration.

Chris Walas, who created and designed Cronenberg’s Fly, directed a superfluous sequel (sans Cronenberg, Goldblum, or Davis), predictably titled The Fly II (1989).  Ronnie dies giving birth to Seth’s son, and the mutated Martin (Eric Stoltz) is raised by an evil industrialist, but this second-generation fly also escapes his father’s fate in a happy ending, eventually curing himself.

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