The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Swarm

I'm not always the quickest learner so I'll take the blame for this one. I guess I should have learned quicker. While there are exceptions, there just weren't many good disaster movies in the 1970s and then into the 1980s. So for every Airport, Towering Inferno and Poseidon Adventure, there are movies like 1978's The Swarm. Yep, another nail in the coffin of a genre struggling to hold on for dear life.

At an isolated army installation in the American Southwest, a heavily armed patrol slowly navigates the eerily empty facility. What the hell happened here? Deep underground at the installation, the investigating patrol finds several dead bodies and a few lucky survivors, including a mysterious doctor, Brad Crane (Michael Caine), who says he's an expert on the world of insects. A much larger army force, commanded by crotchety General Slater (Richard Widmark), arrives soon after, and they're too stunned at what they find and what Crane claims is behind the mysterious attack. The responsibility goes immense swarm of African killer bees. Bees!!!! Making the situation worse, there's no cure for the bees' surprisingly venomous sting and seemingly no one is immune. It looks like nothing can stop the not-so-fast moving bees, and they're heading for Houston.

Sometimes you DO just know. When this 1978 disaster flick from director Irwin Allen -- Master of Disaster flicks -- popped up on Turner Classic Movies' schedule, I had to set it to record. I HAD to. Movies with casts like this don't pop up too often so I had to at least give it a try. Worst case, it's just entertaining in a bad, guilty pleasure fashion, right? Well, that's what you would think. This wasn't even good in a 'So bad it's good' way. It just isn't entertaining. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. 'Swarm' is on all sorts of worst movies ever made lists and bombed in epic fashion in theaters back in 1978. If that's not a recipe for success, I don't know what is!

Maybe the most frightening thing to take away from this bee-disaster flick is that there's a director's cut available out there clocking in at 156 minutes. The TCM version I saw was an already painfully long 116 minutes. God knows what else could be expanded on in an additional 40 minutes because I was losing interest in the shortened version at the 60-minute mark. For goodness sake, 'Swarm' utilizes a love triangle featuring Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray (in his last role) as a subplot! Yes, because that's what we need, three Hollywood legends in a senior citizen love triangle in a disaster flick where a swarm of killer bees are the villains. Seems reasonable, don't it? I can't say I'd be too interested in seeking out that longer version of a dud like this.

Star Michael Caine has said this is the worst movie he ever made, and it's hard to disagree. As the insect/bug specialist, Caine looks to be immensely bored throughout. If there's a slightly redeeming quality in 'Swarm,' it's that the cast is epically impressive. Now are any of them given much of anything to do? That would be a big N-O, but still, look at all those Hollywood stars! Along with Caine and perpetually angry Widmark, look for Katharine Ross, Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain as some of the scientists tasked with halting the advance of the bees.  Also look for Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Bradford Dillman, Slim Pickens, and Cameron Mitchell in other supporting parts, some more painfully forced than others.

Things unfortunately develop in more spoof-fashion than straight disaster flick. How many slow motion bee attack scenes can we witness before it just becomes laughable? Because the movie is about bees, we get one hilarious scene after another about our very talented cast discussing what the bees' intentions are, if they're seeking revenge, if there is a major bee plan to take over the world. It's all done so straight that it becomes spoof-like, and that's never a good thing. The problem is there just isn't that one reason to sit back and watch this one, and that's considering the star power on hand. The cast is given little to nothing to do, the killer bees are a laughable "villain," and the entertainment value just isn't there. Give this one a wide berth.

The Swarm (1978): */****


  1. haha, yeah this one sucks. i have a funny interview with the late morgan paull about how the whole production was a mess, and caine didn't want to be doing it. the worst of the killer bee movies is sadly the most remembered.