The Delambre family suffers from a curse, the curse that affects all practitioners of strange science in the Hollywood film world. Of course, usually that’s only limited to one generation, but since Hollywood has an affinity for milking a topic for all its worth, this extended to three generations in the world of The Fly. I am referring to the curse of being victimized by one’s own sense of purpose, which often, especially in science fiction films, translates to having your (mostly) altruistic intentions cause horrible unexpected events to occur in the process.
The movies take place in Montreal, where Andre Delambre (Al Hedison; billed as “David” Hedison later in life) and his brother, François (Vincent Price) own a metal works. Andre is a working scientist who is secretly working on a project, which turns out to be a device that can transport solid objects from one place to another. Sort of a predecessor to the transporters used in the Star Trek world, but this one has drastic consequences (since, as I said before, in sci-fi, often altruistic intentions do not work out as planned).
At the beginning of the movie, Andre’s wife, Helene (Patricia Owens), has just killed Andre by using the hydraulic press at the plant to squash him. The story plays out in flashbacks, as well as in the present, as Helene tells the story to the police and François. While Helene acts oddly, including frantically looking at every fly that comes into the room, she tells of how her husband worked on his invention. A couple of mishaps, including a plate that reappears with the printed letters transposed and the family cat who disappears at one end but doesn’t reappear at the other end, cause him to return to his work trying to perfect it.
Finally he thinks he has succeeded and uses the machine to transport himself. But a fly which inadvertently got in the machine with him causes him to reappear with the head of the fly.
As he gradually goes insane from the effects of the transformation, he and Helene frantically try to find the fly that has his head. Unfortunately, they are unsuccessful, and Andre destroys his lab and has Helene kill him. In the end, François and the police inspector (Herbert Marshall) finally find the fly and kill it shortly before it is about to be eaten by a spider. (“Help me! Help me!” Sound familiar?)
Flash forward about 10 or 15 years. In Return of the Fly, Andre’s son, Phillipe (Brett Halsey) tries to recreate his father’s work. His uncle (played again by Price) warns him against the actions and refuses to give him any help. But Phillipe is determined to succeed. With the help of an associate, Alan Hines (David Frankham), he continues to work, and when he really needs the money manages to blackmail uncle François by threatening to sell his half of the plant if his uncle doesn’t help.
When he finally succeeds in doing the work, Alan, who turns out to be a spy named Ronald Holmes, tries to sell the secrets to another source. He eventually is confronted by Phillipe, and the spy knocks Phillipe out and uses the transporter, with a fly included, to transform Phillipe into a human/fly mutation. Phillipe escapes and finds the secret source and kills him, then returns and finds Holmes and kills him, too. With the help of a police inspector, Phillipe and the fly are re-transported and successfully become normal again (a happy ending for a change).
In The Curse of the Fly, another generation of the Delambre family is working on the teleportation project. Martin Delambre (George Baker) has been working with his father, Henri (Brian Donlevy) on the project. (A note here: Henri is supposed to be the son of the first Delambre, Andre, but they changed his name from Phillipe in between the second and third movies for some reason.)
Henri and Martin, along with Martin’s brother, Albert (Michael Graham), have had some success in transporting people, although they have had a few mishaps, such as two assistants named Samuels and Dale, and Marin’s wife, Judith, all of whom are kept in stables on the Delambre farm. (Who the “successes” are remains a mystery since it seems everyone who has been through the transporter in the film has had some sort of bad side effect or another from the process.
Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray), an escapee from a mental institution, whom Martin finds on the road in her underwear, also figures into the story. Both Martin and Patricia hold on to secrets that they don’t reveal to one another (Martin his strange experiments, and his still alive first wife, and Patricia her past and the fact that she is an escapee from the funny farm), making for a pretty iffy start since Martin marries Patricia early in the movie…
Things get a little rocky when Patricia discovers the first wife, horribly disfigured from the experiment gone awry, and Martin finding out that Patricia was in the institution. Martin, for his part, uses that info to try to convince Pat she was just dreaming when she saw Judith (Mary Manson). But when the whole world comes crashing around them, Martin and Henri act just like the typical mad scientists by trying to hide their mistakes forever.
Altruistic intentions aside, the Delambre family does seem to be cursed (thus the rather aptly named title of the third installment). The third movie ends its credits with “Is this the end?”, indicating that the studio though they might have a franchise that could go further, but the third movie was such a failure at the box office that that ended that dream.
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.