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Return of the Fly

Return of the Fly(1959)

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teaser Return of the Fly (1959)

Following the smash success of The Fly (1958), one of the most grotesque major studio monster films of its era, it was a natural for 20th Century Fox to commission a sequel. The studio threw more money at the production (around $275,000) but decided to shoot the film in black-and-white versus the blazing color of the first film (but still in the studio's trademark CinemaScope) and brought back only one of the stars, Vincent Price, as concerned uncle Franois of the tragic Delambre family.

As any monster movie fan knows, the original film dealt with the grisly consequences of scientist Andre Delambre's experiments in teleportation, which wound up swapping part of his body with a fly that slips into the chamber at just the wrong moment. That film was based on a short story published in Playboy by George Langelaan and adapted by none other than James "Shogun" Clavell, but this time both directing and writing duties for the story of Andre's son Philippe were handed over to Edward Bernds, a longtime Hollywood veteran who started off as a sound technician at the dawn of the sound era and became a trusted colleague on several Frank Capra productions. The same year The Fly was released, Bernds had moved from directing numerous short subjects and a handful of Blondie comedies to tackling a very different sci-fi film: the Zsa Zsa Gabor vehicle Queen of Outer Space, which was perfectly in line with his comfortable segue into drive-in filmmaking alongside World Without End (1956) and High School Hellcats (1958).

Bringing Price back was no mean feat given the actor's very busy schedule in 1959, which also saw him appearing in The Big Circus, The Bat, and two legendary films for William Castle, House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. Of course, Price would go on to launch into a string of AIP productions the following year featuring his popular cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for Roger Corman, which would permanently cement his horror icon status. On several occasions the witty Price commented that this sequel to The Fly should have been titled The Zipper and stated that he was excited by the original screenplay, which was stripped down by the time it went before the cameras for the independent production company Associated Producers with Fox distributing. Return of the Fly would ultimately go out to audiences as a Fox double feature on 1600 screens with another AP title, The Alligator People (1959), which was also a CinemaScope black-and-white monster offering.

Despite his issues with the script revisions (including heavy cuts to the family relationships and more emotional moments), Price soldiered on. As he remarked in Joel Eisner's The Price of Fear, "It was not a bad film, in fact, it was quite exciting. When I first read the script, I was very excited about the possibilities as it was one of those rare cases when the sequel proved to be better than the original. Unfortunately, the producers, in obvious bad judgment, proceeded to put in a lot of gimmicks in the belief that films need gimmicks to be popular. I also thought it was ridiculous to shoot it in black and white."

One other significant character from the original film was intended to come back in the original screenplay, the character of Inspector Charas played by Herbert Marshall, but instead the part became John Sutton's Inspector Beacham in the final version. Neither the cast nor director knew why Marshall wasn't asked to return but speculated it may have been due to financial issues.

The main new cast member here is young Brett Halsey, a Fox contract player who had starred in Bernds' High School Hellcats and also appeared in another 1959 Fox film, the much-loved melodrama The Best of Everything, and would also appear in Return to Peyton Place (1961). He and Price would team up again for one segment of the three-story Nathaniel Hawthorne horror anthology, Twice-Told Tales (1963), which was marketed to cash in on Price's Poe series. Like many American actors of his generation, Halsey would find success going to Italy for a string of unexpected projects including two films for Mario Bava, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970) and Four Times That Night (1971), and after a long stint in television, a trio of films for Lucio Fulci, The Devil's Honey (1986), Touch of Death (1988), and Demonia (1990), or four if you count the cannibalized footage of him used in A Cat in the Brain (1990).

Of course, once Halsey is affected by his trip through the teleportation machine, the creature was actually played by someone else: Ed Wolff, a circus giant previously seen as the robot in The Phantom Creeps (1939) and the title character in The Colossus of New York (1958). As Bernds recalled, "He had very low endurance. With that head on and that heavy costume, we had to be very careful with him; we were afraid he'd have a heart attack and die! When we required him to run or anything, we'd have to give him several minutes to rest up."

Despite middling reviews and toned-down monster mayhem (apart from a memorably twisted vignette involving a guinea pig), Return of the Fly was a financial success and spawned a third film in the series, the stylish British production Curse of the Fly (1965) directed by Don Sharp. After that the property would remain dormant until David Cronenberg gave it a drastic overhaul for his successful, Oscar-winning version of The Fly (1986). Oddly enough, that film would be followed by a sequel of its own, The Fly II (1989), which followed the lead of Return of the Fly by inflicting new teleportation horrors on the son of the original film's ill-fated fly-human hybrid--but without Vincent Price around this time to help him get through the ordeal.

By Nathaniel Thompson

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