The Mystery of George Langelaan

Reading & Writing scene from the 20th Century-Fox Production "THE FLY". Vincent Price (R) Herbert Marshall (L) and Charles Herbert.

A scene from the 20th Century-Fox Production “THE FLY”. Vincent Price (R) Herbert Marshall (L) and Charles Herbert.

Although he was born in Paris in 1908, Langelaan was British, and lived a life far stranger than almost any of his fictions. By my reckoning, he didn’t get published until he was approaching fifty – so what was he doing in the intervening years?

Well, he began as a newspaper writer until the start of WWII, then found himself working for British Army Intelligence. Rescued during Dunkirk after being stranded behind enemy lines, he then worked for the Special Operations Executive, a secret unit involved in sabotage and spying. To aid the French resistance movement, he agreed to be parachuted back there in order to meet a key contact, but was worried about being recognised. His ears stuck out like a taxi doors, so along with a new identity he was given some plastic surgery to make himself less recognisable.

After being dropped, he was caught by the Nazis and condemned to death, but managed to escape from the Mauzac camp in 1942. He was awarded the Croix De Guerre, and wrote a memoir tell the story; ‘The Masks Of War’, in 1959.

But two years before this he penned another work about the power of transformation.

‘The Fly’ was a short story that appeared in Playboy magazine. The tale of a scientist whose attempts to transmit himself across distances end in disaster when his cells are mixed with those of a common housefly accidentally trapped in the machine was an instant hit with readers, and was filmed with Vincent Price.

The script was adapted by James Clavell, who wrote ‘The Great Escape’, ‘633 Squadron’ (goggles on, everybody!) and ‘Tai Pan’. The film spawned two sequels, a remake, another sequel and an opera composed by Howard Shore, who had scored the soundtrack for the successful David Cronenberg version.

Langelaan also wrote war stories, tales in French and supernatural suspensers. Alfred Hitchcock (who pops up frequently in these little histories) recognised his way with a good plot and adapted him for television. But despite penning two volumes of richly detailed biography, Langelaan never again achieved the level of fame he’d received for ‘The Fly’.

A tale of deception and disguise presented as a mystery of identity, it must have been a subject close to the writer’s heart, and was perhaps more of a subconscious roman a clef than his memoirs. But a puzzle remains; surely, if Langelaan wrote the gruesome story before suggesting his own physical alteration, it hints at something much stranger in the writer’s mind – or was it merely coincidence?

3 comments on “The Mystery of George Langelaan”

  1. Vivienne says:

    One can imagine only too easily that he suffered as a boy at school being teased about his ears – told he was part bat or something? Maybe that idea took root.

  2. Jan says:

    Or maybe the escape from Mauzac holds the,answer to the inspiration for this story. After being captured and held by the enemy for a period of time his controllers/handlers would have inevitably looked afresh at their agent after his return. Wondering if he had been corrupted/turned by the Nazis into a double agent or steered from his original beliefs and mission tasks in some,way

    The mixture of the fly and human DNA which created the monster may reflect the exposure Langelaan had to the horror of capture by the Nazis. He could have been profoundly changed by the experience. Perhaps it reveals hisown. reaction to the probing for possibles changes to his character his control officers were looking for in him.

  3. Jan says:

    It was,a great film though! I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch it as a kid. I can remember discussing it at skool.
    When they talk about how there’s only so many stories that can be told ‘ The Fly” was a new twist
    A new look at the world.
    You know I loved Vincent Price he was always to me funny/scary like a joke I didn’t quite
    Understand. But he was gr8 value for money.
    Isn’t strange how,some stories you learn in your youth stay with you through your life.
    I remember some other scary picture from my early teens think it may have been French. The Tingler it could have been like some monster created from your backbone like when you get that shiver in your spine. Can’t remember much detail now but was scary as could be back then
    They were black and while films that were shown on late night telly when using saw them. At about age 13

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