Film

Don’t Open That Door! #49: 'Return of the Fly' (1959)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: a scary guy with a bug's head is replaced by a less scary guy with a bug's head in Return of the Fly.


Return of the Fly

Director: Edward Bernds
Cast: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, Dan Seymour
US Release Date: 1959-07

Alternative title: Look What They Done to My Head, Ma

POSITIVES:

* Some unexpected plot twists make for entertaining viewing.

* Monster gets more screen time than in the original.

* Somehow, even though you know what's coming, it's still kind of creepy.

* Good noir elements.

NEGATIVES:

* Not as good as the original film.

Two male leads are pretty vapid, as is the female "love" interest, and even Vincent Price doesn't actually do much

SYNOPSIS: Twenty years or so have passed since the death of Andre at the end—and the beginning, come to think of it—of The Fly (1958). As this film opens, we see his beloved wife Helene laid to rest as well. Not that we see it very well, since the world has lost all color and the shadows in this black-and-white picture are pretty thick… Nonetheless, some things haven't changed: there's vaguely effeminate Uncle Francois, recounting the story of Andre's experimental catastrophe to Andre's sulky offspring, Philippe. Hey Francois! Are you sure that's such a good idea?


Actually it's not a good idea at all, since Philippe, who isn't overloaded in the brains department, decides that Dad was onto something after all, but just got a little careless. Can you see where this is going? Riiight. Unfortunately though, Philippe can see nothing of the sort—told you he was dim—so he gets together with hired hand Alan to try to reproduce Dad's success. Which he does, and then some. After coercing Uncle Francois into helping out against his better judgment, Philippe and Alan just about perfect Dad's technology. But there's more to this story than meets the eye at first. Not wanting to give anything away, let's just say that the detective snooping around has good reason to be keeping an eye on our boys, even though he comes to a somewhat tragic end.

Somewhere along the line this "horror" movie morphs into a noir-esque drama rife with shady characters, tilted Stetsons, cars rolling over cliffs with bodies in the trunk—but no tough dames, sorry. There's even a leering, well-connected mortician named Max. And then, just when you think it's safe to relax, something gross happens, like that bit with the guinea pig. Ugh! To the filmmakers' credit, they avoid simply repeating the same plot as the original; even though there are strong similarities, there are also enough twists to make this movie enjoyable for its own sake. If "enjoyable" is the right word. The ending is a bit of a letdown, though. Isn't it? Or have I just gotten cynical in my old age?

What gets permanently rearranged—for the worse: A guinea pig; a detective; a fly; a scientist who takes after Papa a little too much; a back-stabbin' dirty dog; a mortician.

Did you notice? In the scene in Andre's old research lab, when Francois is telling Philippe what happened years before, some of Andre's final message to Helene from the earlier film can just be made out, scrawled on the blackoard, to wit: "I Love You." Spooky! Like Andre's voice from the grave, or something.

Maybe you can explain… …why the cars and fashions from Philippe's 20s are exactly the same as those from when he was six? Actually, if you think about it too much, this can give you a headache. If the first movie takes place in 1958, then the second should be happening in the 1970s…. but it sure doesn't look like the '70s. (Stetsons, Edsels.) But if the second movie takes place in 1959, then the first must've taken place in the 1930s (or early '40s, at the latest). But the first one doesn't look like the ’30s or ’40s. On the other hand, these events are all taking place in Montreal, so knows what's going on up there?

Party game: Play "Sequel." Players write down as many sequels to movies as they can remember. Winner has the longest list. Alternative: Play "Good Sequel." Players write down sequels that were actually better than the originals. Winner is the player who can think of any at all. (Aliens? Are you kidding?)

This reminds me of… The third movie in the trilogy, Curse of the Fly (1965) which is "Priceless"—as in, without Vincent Price. (I know, I made that joke last week too.) It's not very good. (The movie, I mean, not the joke. Although that too...)

Somehow their careers survived: For more info on Vincent Price (Francois), see my entries on The Fly (1958) and The Tingler (1959). Also worth hunting up is The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) in which Price takes the stock mad scientist character to a whole new level. 1959 was a busy year for Brett Halsey (Philippe) who showed up again in Atomic Submarine, Submarine Seahawk, and Jet Over the Atlantic. His career would extend into the 1990s, with Italian horror flicks like Black Cat (1990) and Demonia (1992). David Frankham (Alan) would feature in 1962's Tales of Terror, 1979's The Great Santini, and other movies. Dan Seymour (Max)'s career would end with this film; earlier roles had included bits in A Night in Casablanca (1946) with the Marx Brothers, plus Key Largo (1948) and To Have and Have Not (1944)—both with Bogart and Bacall. So, was this an anticlimax? You decide.

BOTTOM LINE: Not a great movie, but not a bad one either. With a few tricks up its sleeve, this sequel is a respectable enough successor to the classic original.

NEXT WEEK: The Wild Women of Wongo (1958)

5

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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