• MT VOID, 10/08/21 -- Vol. 40, No. 15, Whole Number 2192

    From evelynchimelisleeper@gmail.com@21:1/5 to All on Sun Oct 10 07:23:50 2021
    Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
    10/08/21 -- Vol. 40, No. 15, Whole Number 2192

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    THE FLY (1958) (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)
    TCM's October Promotion Email
    The "Living Dead" Saga (letter of comment
    by Dorothy J. Heydt)
    FORBIDDEN PLANET (letter of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt)
    This Week's Reading (Hugo Award novelettes finalists)
    (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


    TOPIC: THE FLY (1958) (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

    Two weeks ago I made THE FLY (1958) my pick for November, but did
    not say very much about it. Let me say some more this week.

    THE FLY (1958) is a film that surprised even its producers. They
    knew the story was a little silly and expected only a modest return
    on the film from a mostly young audience. Even the film's name
    stars, Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall, could not take THE FLY
    seriously. The audience, on the other hand, found that there was
    much to respond to in the film. THE FLY cost $350,000 to make and
    grossed $3,000,000 on its release, considerably outstripping any
    expectation. Based on results of this film 20th Century Fox went
    on to make several other science fiction films. I would contend
    that the reason this film had the impact that it did is that it
    really is very much an archetypal story, an "Oedipus Rex" for the
    scientific age. It is the story of a man who has just about
    anything a man could want and loses it all in a moment of hubris.
    Helene and Andre Delambre, the major characters, have a warm and
    loving relationship and they love life. Andre himself just follows
    his curiosity as his profession, and that provides enough so they
    live very well. And in one moment of pride and carelessness it was
    all turned into horror. It is interesting to note that this is a
    film with no human--or even non-human--villains. Essentially,
    everybody wants the best for everybody else. It is basically
    people after a disastrous mistake struggling to put things right
    again. It is most unusual to have a horror film in which there is
    no ill-will. People even are doing what they see as acting in
    young Philippe's best interest when they so brazenly lie to him.
    Today candor seems a little more in vogue.

    The film was directed by Kurt Neumann, who counted among his films
    several low-budget Tarzan movies, ROCKETSHIP X-M, and more recently
    (for Fox) SHE DEVIL and KRONOS. With the possible exception of
    KRONOS, there is not much there to suggest that he could have been
    responsible for how well THE FLY resonated with audiences. More
    likely it is the mythic elements from the story. THE FLY is based
    on a short story by George Langelaan that appeared in Playboy

    The original story took place in France, but here it was moved to
    Montreal to explain the French names while placing it in an
    environment that the audience could identify with. The plot starts
    almost immediately with a strange mystery. Andre and Helene
    Delambre (Al Hedison and Patricia Owens) seemed to be in love as
    much as any married couple could be. Andre and his brother
    Francois owned an extremely successful electronics research and
    development company. Things seemed perfect for them and it. But
    in the first moments of the plot the idyllic life of the Delambres
    is over. The night watchman at Delambre Freres has found Helene
    over the dead body of Andre. It seems he was killed in a factory
    press. What makes this all seem even stranger is that Andre should
    have known the press was coming down if it was. He would have had
    to have been a most cooperative victim in his own murder. What is
    more, Helene did not know how to operate the press. That just
    does not make any kind of sense.

    Francois is called almost immediately by Helene and he in turn
    calls in Inspector Charas of the Surete to do the police work.
    Helene admits to the killing, but refuses to give answer certain
    questions so that the action still just does not add up. Helene is
    free with some information, but other questions she insists that
    she cannot answer. The one hole in this behavior is that she
    seems to have developed a fixation on seeing flies--any fly that
    can be caught. Francois finds out that Helene is looking for a
    particular fly with a white head. In an attempt to find out what
    really happened, he bluffs to Helene that he has the fly and
    convinces her that he will destroy the fly as she wants if she will
    explain why and how she killed Andre. She begins to tell her

    In the flashback story Andre unveils to her the device that has
    occupied much of his time recently. He has developed a matter
    transmission machine. It disintegrates solid objects placed in a
    transmission booth, transmits the matter to a receiving booth and
    reintegrates the object. In demonstrating the machine it generally
    works, but has occasional malfunctions--not surprisingly for a new
    piece of technology. At first the machine creates a mirror image
    of the object being transmitted. Then for an unknown reason it
    fails to reintegrate just when the family cat Dandello is sent.
    But eventually it seems to be reliable, transmitting a guinea pig
    and allowing her to reintegrate. The machine seems to work and
    Andre invites Francois to see the machine in action. But instead
    of meeting his brother he leaves a note that he cannot see
    Francois. At about the same time Philippe finds a white-headed
    fly, but Helene makes him let it go. Andre refuses to leave the
    lab or be seen. That night he passes another note out of the lab
    saying he has had a problem. It seems he wants Helene to look for
    a particular fly with a white head. She is allowed into the lab,
    but Andre has a cloth over his head and his hand in his pocket.
    When Helene tells Andre that she made Philippe release a fly with
    the white head Andre is shocked enough to take what should be his
    left hand out of his pocket, but instead of a hand there is a sort
    of black claw. Andre can eat only liquids which he seems to
    noisily slurp. It seems that Andre transmitted himself with a fly
    in the box with him and the two had their atoms mixed. Now he
    needs the fly to untangle the two. The next day Helene and
    Philippe search for the white-headed fly. They succeed only in
    unknowingly letting the very fly they want get out the window.

    Andre loses heart when the fly is not found and finds he is losing
    control of his head and hand. He knows he needs the fly to
    unscramble the atoms but he allows himself to cooperate with
    Helene. He transmits himself one more time in the absurd belief
    that it will do some good. Helene, ever the optimist, pulls the
    cloth from his head and finds herself looking at a human-sized fly
    head. (Note: in the story it is a cat head with fly eyes, a side
    effect of the loss of Dandello.) Andre sees Helene's screaming
    face through compound eyes in one of the most horrific scenes of
    any film ever. Helene faints and Andre trying to control his body
    lays her out on a couch in safety. The horror gives way to tragedy
    as Andre tries to kiss Helene and realizes that he is no longer
    physically capable of kissing or caressing her. In angry
    frustration he destroys his laboratory and burns his notes.
    Pulling the cloth back over his head he writes on the blackboard
    asking Helene for help in destroying himself. More and more the
    fly hand seems to be following orders of its own, his last humanity
    is being lost. Andre takes Helene to the room with the press and
    with her help he manages to commit suicide, being crushed in the
    press to destroy all evidence of what happened to him.

    Back in the present Francois and Inspector Charas cannot believe
    the story. The inspector is going to have Helene arrested. He
    returns with a warrant for murder against her. Helene is expecting
    that having told the story her trouble are over and remains
    confident until she finds out that Francois did not have the white-
    headed fly. Helene is terrified that Philippe will see her being
    arrested and asks Francois to take him away. Francois and Philippe
    make small talk and Philippe, not realizing the significance, says
    that he has seen the fly in a web. Francois is dumb-struck and
    runs to Charas insisting that he come and see. Charas follows
    reluctantly and is shocked to see a human-headed fly in the web
    just as a spider attacks it. Charas takes a rock and destroys the
    spider and the fly. Then, admitting to as much of a murder as
    Helene has committed, he and Francois concoct a story to cover up
    Helene's crime.

    The only really familiar actors in the film at the time were
    Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall. Both thought the film
    hilarious, particularly the scene of the fly in the web, and
    luckily they were relegated to what were actually very secondary
    parts. Patricia Owens is really the main character and deserved
    top billing with secondary credit going to Al "David" Hedison.
    Ironically and luckily both give better performances than Price.
    David Hedison went on to co-star in THE LOST WORLD and then to have
    a long run on television in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, all
    for 20th Century Fox.

    There is genuine suspense in the film's mystery. Helene's actions
    seem to be so out of character for her. Every conventional
    explanation has a good reason why it does not explain the facts.
    Andre had to have, at some level, cooperated with Helene, even if
    only to the extent to show Helene how to run the press. Yet Andre
    should have been able to commit suicide by himself had he wanted.
    Clearly they both must have suddenly wanted Andre dead. And that
    seems to make no sense. Then James Clavell adapted the George
    Langelaan story into a screenplay. Clavell is, of course, known
    best for a series of best-selling novels set in the Far East
    including SHOGUN. Clavell also wrote the screenplay for THE SATAN
    BUG, taking some liberties with the original story. In this case,
    however, he maintained the original story very accurately. In so
    many other films, even the remake, the transformed human is
    dangerous and kills. While Andre is transformed, he never becomes
    a monster, in spite of being a horrifying sight. Andre loses his
    features and toward the end he loses control of himself, but he
    never loses his humanity. Kurt Neumann seems to have risen to
    match his script with high production values. The film has the
    very good look of a careful and high-quality production. It was
    shot in wide-screen and Technicolor.

    Sadly, even with its classical tragic story this film also has its
    moments that are all too easily mocked. Conservation of matter
    would indicate that the fly's head on Andre's should be the size of
    a fly's head. Similarly with the human head on the fly's body, you
    should barely see the fly parts. The concept of the projection is
    different from the concept in the remake. The 1958 version has
    essentially a projector that moves atom for atom. It may distort
    the image at the far end--like reversing it--but it should not just
    switch selected parts. The remake has the device analyzing DNA and
    essentially cloning it. I would say that this is a more absurd
    approach to matter transmission. The simple fact is that humans
    play host to many small life forms from eyelash mites to a variety
    of organisms internally. There are many forms of DNA the machine
    could pick to reproduce. Adding a fly just adds one more. And why
    does it reproduce things like fingernails? That is non-living
    matter and cannot be reproduced from DNA. It has been mentioned
    that Helene disposes of her husband in the time-honored tradition
    of disposing of flies, she squashes it in what is essentially a big

    Not all of Neumann's touches work. When the night watchman sees
    the dead body his mouth drops open in an exaggerated scream, but
    instead we hear the ringing of a phone. Hitchcock could have made
    the scene work, but it really does not here. Neumann overuses the
    sound of a fly's buzzing in the background; it becomes tiresome.
    For the sound of the electronic equipment, a rhythmic cello-string
    is used, borrowing an effect from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The one
    unfortunate aspect of the script is that nobody asks the really
    interesting questions. What happens when you can transmit people
    across borders? Is the transmitted human really the same person or
    just a replica? For at least some serious questions you must see
    THE CURSE OF THE FLY and David Cronenberg's semi-remake. The fly's
    head on Andre is quite well done and not made huge, as it was in
    the sequel THE RETURN OF THE FLY. There was no good way to give a
    fly a human head and little daub of white paint on the head is not
    convincing. It is surprising in the scene where Helene and
    Philippe are trying to capture what really is the right fly, they
    were not saying the fly's head was white--an important detail and
    one they would look for.

    This is for me one of the milestones of the Fifties science fiction
    film, and I give it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


    TOPIC: TCM's October Promotion Email

    Join ACTOR Mario Cantone and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz EACH SUNDAY
    EVENING IN OCTOBER for thrills, chills and some laughs along the
    way. From creepy kids to terrifying family hauntings, there is
    nothing more classic than scares and screams at Halloween.

    SUNDAY, OCTOBER 3 Creature Features
    8:00 PM The Birds (1963)
    10:15 PM Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

    Sunday, October 10 Creepy Kids
    8:00 PM The Bad Seed (1956)
    10:15 PM It's Alive (1974)

    Sunday, October 17 Family Hauntings
    8:00 PM Poltergeist (1982)
    10:00 PM Burnt Offerings (1976)

    Sunday, October 24 Bette and Joan Horror
    8:00 PM What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
    10:30 PM Strait-Jacket (1964)

    Sunday, October 31 Slashers
    8:00 PM Psycho (1960)
    10:00 PM Blow Out (1981)

    Then spend Halloween with TCM with our Happy Halloween Marathon!

    32 Movies Starting October 29 at 8 p.m. through October 31



    TOPIC: The "Living Dead" Saga (letter of comment by Dorothy
    J. Heydt)

    In response to Mark's comments on the "Living Dead" saga in the
    10/01/21 issue of the MT VOID, Dorothy J. Heydt writes:

    Magnificent prose saved to disk. Bravo! [-djh]


    TOPIC: FORBIDDEN PLANET (letter of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt)

    In response to Kip William's comments on a "Forbidden Planet" 45rpm
    disc in the 10/01/21 issue of the MT VOID, Dorothy J. Heydt writes:

    I had one of those 45s once: it was actually performed by Louis and
    Bebe Barron on their electronic instruments, and was not bad. I
    did a solo modern dance to it for some occasion or other in junior
    college and got a lot of applause. (Never mind that I forgot my
    carefully prepared choreography halfway through and had to
    improvise. Ah, youth ... mine and my audience's.) [-djh]


    TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

    Well, I've finally caught up with my Hugo reading; this week I'll
    comment on the novelettes.

    "Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super", A. T.
    Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020): Sam Wells wants to
    join the other superheroes, but his super-power is that he can set
    himself on fire, which hardly seems useful. On the other hand, he
    is also an accountant... An interesting twist on the super-hero

    "Helicopter Story", Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020): This
    generated a lot of controversy when it was first published under
    the title "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter", with so
    much vituperation directed at Fall personally that she asked to
    have the story taken down, and basically disappeared from social
    media for a while. Whether the title change has resolved these
    issues is not clear (I suspect not entirely), Fall did accept the
    nomination, so some sort of toning down has probably been achieved.
    That said, I'm not sure I get *why* this was nominated for a Hugo.
    Yes, it examines gender roles in a new way; contrast this with such
    earlier works as THE SHIP WHO SANG or ROBOCOP, which ignore gender
    issues altogether. Maybe (as I often fall back on) I'm not the
    target audience, or maybe I'm just an old fart who is out of touch
    with the world today, but it didn't ring the Hugo bell for me.

    "The Inaccessibility of Heaven", Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny
    Magazine, July/August 2020): This is a crime story set among the
    Fallen, that is, the fallen angels after a rebellion in Heaven,
    though the world itself it not quite ours. On the other hand, if
    Heaven and the fallen angels and all that were real, maybe our
    world *would* look like this. An interesting world-building

    "Monster", Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020): **SEMI-
    SPOILER** This is another "super-powers" story, though quite
    different from Greenblatt's "Burn". Kritzer uses a series of
    flashbacks within her "current" narrative to slowly reveal the
    situation to which the main character is reacting. It becomes
    obvious halfway through what is going on, and the resolution has a
    touch of "pulling a rabbit out of a hat." It's an okay story, but
    nothing great.

    "The Pill", Meg Elison (from Big Girl, (PM Press)): The basic
    premise is a pill that lets fat people lose all their excess weight
    with no real effort (though there is some pain), but it kills ten
    percent of the people who take it. It is all about body image,
    body shame, and basically the same lookism that Ted Chiang
    addresses in his "Liking What You See", but with the action being
    initiated by the "target" rather than the "observers". Elison also
    ups the ante by bringing in effects due to the change being real
    rather than merely apparent. Insurers and those who pay the
    insurers--hence most corporations--pressure fat people to take the
    pill. When enough people have taken it, finding clothing, or
    furniture, or anything, that will accommodate fat people becomes
    increasingly difficult. But there are other, less predictable,
    effects as well. A thoughtful, and well-thought-out, look at the
    social effects of a technological change.

    "Two Truths and a Lie", Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com): This explores the
    boundaries between truths and lies and what happens when that
    boundary blurs. I felt a little out of touch, though, when Pinsker
    talks about the games Truth or Dare, or Two Truths an a Lie, she is
    talking about things after my time. Truth or Dare has been around
    since 1712 (supposedly), but only really caught on after Madonna
    popularized it in 1991. I have no idea when Two Truths and a Lie
    came along.

    Ranking: "The Pill", "The Inaccessibility of Heaven", "Burn, or the
    Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super", "Monster", no award,
    "Helicopter Story", "Two Truths and a Lie"



    Mark Leeper


    I like long walks, especially when they are taken
    by people who annoy me.
    --Noel Coward

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  • From Gary McGath@21:1/5 to eleeper@optonline.net on Sun Oct 10 11:40:15 2021
    On 10/10/21 10:23 AM, eleeper@optonline.net wrote:
    TOPIC: THE FLY (1958) (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

    Two weeks ago I made THE FLY (1958) my pick for November, but did
    not say very much about it. Let me say some more this week.

    As far as I can remember, "The Fly" was the first horror movie I ever
    saw. What was creepiest to me and stuck most in my mind was the fly with
    the human head calling "Help me!" and then getting killed.

    Gary McGath http://www.mcgath.com

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