The Swarm (1978) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27Apr/100

The Swarm (1978)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny DISLIKEIt's getting fairly tempting for me to add another rating on this site: Laughably Terrible. Because between Corvette Summer last week, I must admit, it's always treat to try and review these trawling messes of poor decisions.

Regardless, The Swarm is a ball of cheese to behold and cherish. The movie postulates that a swarm of Brazilian killer bees have been brought north via hurricane and that the bees are nigh unstoppable, and the movie says all of this with the straightest of faces.

Even better than that, it's an all-star cast kind of disaster movie. Produced and directed by Irwin Allen, the producer behind the blockbusters The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure as well as a host of other baby boomer delights, he takes the formula that he'd perfected over the years and unequivocally blows it all. Let's run through that cast, though, and take out most of the plot while we're at it:

Michael Caine is Brad Crane, a mysterious and hostile entomologist. Caine would later claim that this was the worst movie he ever made, but since he left Jaws: The Revenge off the list, I'm not too sure I trust his judgment there. Regardless, the movie begins with the military finding him alone in an ICBM bunker and his van out front. He warns the military about the place being swarmed by killer bees that he'd been warning them about for years. Caine spends most of the movie looking placid, promising that he's working of finding a solution, and then just kind of milling about with due indifference. In a bout of extreme screenwriting, he develops a romance with...

Katharine Ross, who, as the military base's doctor, is the only other survivor of the bee attack. She manages to look barely more concerned than Caine, and gets to do some 'ACTING' after she's stung by one of the bees. Since it takes approximately four killer bee stings to kill someone (which is highly inefficient if you ask me), her one sting only gets her hallucinations of a giant bee hovering above her. However, when not participating in her tepid romance with Caine, she spends a great deal of time berating...

Richard Widmark as General Slater. He is told to take his orders from Caine's entomologist and he reluctantly agrees. He glowers most of the movie, and any time he does try it ends in a laughably bad way. By the end of the movie, when he orders Houston to be coated in pesticide and then burned to the ground, he both neglects to even try the pesticide on the bees before they reach Houston, and then, for some reason, neglects to leave Houston after he orders it burned to the ground. In spite of all this, he's pretty much the rock of the movie because, despite his bumbling, it seems that his ill fortune is obviously more caused by plot necessity than his own actions, and Widmark plays the general as remarkably human. That's even compared to...

Richard Chamberlain, as one of Caine's crackerjack team of entomologists. This is a role of absolutely no dignity, especially in terms of the awful, awful beard that Chamberlain wears throughout. Seriously, it looks more like old growth underbrush than facial hair. Regardless, Chamberlain's main function is to read the scientist lines that Caine and Henry Fonda don't want to, and then die in one of the stupidest ways you can imagine. But that death also includes...

Jose Ferrer as Dr. Andrews, in charge of a nuclear power plant that is in the swarm's way. He's only in the picture for about two minutes, as he tells Chamberlain that he simply can't shut down the nuclear power plant. While the two of them are standing around talking about it, who should show up but the swarm of killer bees.

In spite of the fact that it's big, black, rather noisy, apparently coming in their direction, already all over the news for having killed over 200 people, and can only move seven miles an hour, there have been no preparations for these killer bees. They show up, swarm the humans, and then blow up the power plant because that's simply the kind of dicks that they are. Thirty thousand people die in the nuclear explosion, but apparently bees can survive such a holocaust, and they continue on their merry way to Houston. But all of this happens after...

Olivia De Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Fred MacMurray have the most painfully dull love triangle that I can recall. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see a romance that doesn't involve bodily fluids or supermodels in some way, but this whole triangle never reaches the level above cornball. I could describe it to you, but you'll just be even more annoyed when you find there's no resolution to this because it ends with the single stupidest train crash in the history of the modern motion picture.

Okay, so the trio has just survived their small town being ransacked by the bees, and are evacuated as per Widmark's plan. Caine warns against it because he got paid to be in this movie and will say whatever nonsensical drivel they want him too, but Widmark overrules him and packs hundreds of people onto a quick train out of town. This would be all fine and dandy except, as you recall, no one actually spends any time keeping track of where the bees are. Along with this, the train conductors decide to leave their windows wide open as they wind their way through the mountains. If you smell a recipe for disaster, you've got it, as the bees carefully invade the train and, um, push it over the cliff. It explodes, and the love triangle ends as all must, with three barbecued corpses. And if you think that was pointless, we haven't even gotten to...

Slim Pickens, who plays a distraught father searching for his son at the ICBM base. He threatens Widmark to get onto the base, grabs his son's corpse (ensconced in a particularly rubbery body bag), cries, and then wanders back out of the film, never to be mentioned again. That's almost as pointless as...

Lee Grant who plays a reporter who's onto this big scoop about killer bees. She has no personality and almost no lines, only standing by a cameraman and looking concerned when it's needed. And even that is more substantial than the role given to...

Patty Duke Astin, who plays a pregnant woman who gives birth and then dies from the bee stings. Admittedly, she has more screen time than Grant, but like Pickens or Ferrer, it's all time that's going towards nothing to with the plot. None of the other characters know she even exists. Still, that would almost be preferable to the role offered to...

Bradford Dillman, Widmark's right hand man. He's told to keep an eye on Caine, since he's an extremely suspicious character and he really seems pretty okay with the bees killing people most of the time. For some reason Dillman keeps this up for all of two scenes before he just starts hanging around with Widmark and looking sweaty. All those questions about Caine, from his mysterious and lucky appearance to his predictions of this exact event occurring? Nope, never answered. Suckers. But still, at least no one will really ever remember Dillman was in this movie, unlike poor old...

Henry Fonda, undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century, who plays Dr. Walter Krim. Krim is a brilliant research scientist confined to a wheelchair because, apparently, they paid but they didn't pay enough to get Henry Fonda to get up off of his ass. They bring him in to help Caine solve the bee mess, and dies about three quarters through the film trying to find a cure for the bee's toxin. In most any other movie, this death would mean something, but here it's just a lark, another attempt to wring emotion from another completely useless character.

With all of these people dying left and right you'd almost have to believe that somehow their deaths are either 1) integral to the plot or 2) emotional, but both of these are laughable. The whole rigmarole is solved in the last five minutes of the movie when Caine suddenly thinks to lure the bees with a mating call to the middle of the water where he can then set them on fire. (As a side note, this solution is lifted straight from the monster movie classic The Beginning of the End, the best movie ever made about giant crickets eating Central Illinois.) This solution is especially funny since, at the time, most of Houston was in flames and that didn't seem to faze the bees, as neither did the radioactive fallout from the nuclear plant they destroyed.

Also funny is how most of the movie calls the bees intellect into question: Caine will warn Widmark that the bees are smart and not to underestimate them until a few scenes later when the General acknowledges that the bees are smart and that he won't underestimate them. Immediately thereafter, Caine calls him an idiot for thinking the bees are smart.

Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Characters and their motivations are switch practically every scene and played so broad that you could just slap on some lipstick and call it Susie. That's not even half the trouble: you'll have a shot where an ambulance gets attacked by bees in the dead of night and then it cuts to where said ambulance explodes in broad daylight.

I'd recommend the movie as a cheesy good time, though be warned that all of the inanity tips the time scales at over 150 minutes. But even that gargantuan waste of your precious life might be worth it to hear Richard Widmark intone softly to himself in a sad, desperate state, "Will history blame me... or the bees?"

The Swarm is currently available via Netflix's Instant Queue.

The Swarm (1978)

Directed by Irwin Allen
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Starring Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Henry Fonda, and Richard Widmark

Posted by Danny

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