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Highly enjoyable (and very expensive) flop from Irwin Allen, the Master of Disaster. Michael Caine, with help from a bunch of other famous actors, fight against a huge swarm of African killer bees and almost destroy the entire city of Houston in the progress. Try to get hold of the longer version (about half an hour longer than the original), which contain more drama and longer action scenes. Considered a turkey among most critics, but this film is far better than many recent box-office hits. Note that the local cinema is showing "The Towering Inferno".
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Panavision)
Sound format: 4-track magnetic stereo
A swarm of African killer bees rampage across America's south-west before descending on Houston, destroying everything in their path.
Contrary to popular opinion, THE SWARM is not the worst movie ever made, and anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn't seen the collected works of Jesùs Franco, Andy Milligan or Woody Allen (just kidding!). Representing the last gasp of the disaster cycle inaugurated by Ross Hunter's big-time adaptation of Arthur Hailey's AIRPORT (1969) and further popularized by the likes of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) - the latter a bona fide Hollywood classic - THE SWARM encapsulates director Irwin Allen's basic commercial ethos: Big stars, big set-pieces, and big drama.
Taking its cue from previous small-scale entries like THE DEADLY BEES (1966) and TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (1978), Allen's old-fashioned monster movie revels in the destruction of towns, trains, nuclear power plants and the reputations of numerous high-profile actors. However, Stirling Silliphant's script is so hokey, it's difficult to believe he wasn't poking inglorious fun at the entire project: Michael Caine is so obviously miscast (as a 'brilliant' entomologist), and so clearly contemptuous of the material, his expression never changes throughout the entire film, though co-star Richard Widmark gives it everything he's got as a gruff military type who's eager to quell the threat by bombing everything in sight. Henry Fonda rises above the fray as a dedicated immunologist, and Slim Pickens is quietly dignified as a bereaved father, while Olivia De Havilland forms the centerpiece of a gentle romantic subplot (she's courted by Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson). Richard Chamberlain, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Bradford Dillman and Patty Duke Astin are featured in supporting roles alongside leading lady Katharine Ross, who seems particularly embarrassed by her ridiculous dialogue (get a load of her hysterical reaction to the death of a sympathetic younger character - if you lean forward, you can almost *smell* the ham!).
The film exists in two separate versions: The 116 minute theatrical print, and an expanded 'director's cut' running 155 minutes which pads the narrative with pointless dialogue exchanges, turning a tightly constructed disaster thriller into an endless yak-fest. Stick with the original.
Michael Caine should have got his Oscar for uttering that
I was actually scared by this movie on TV when I was young because of the scene of the children being "swarmed" at recess. Yet a quarter of a century later, I had to get the DVD because this is one movie guaranteed to cheer me up. It's all been said in other comments - cheese, camp, so bad it's good. Ed Wood would be proud.
The scenes between Caine's scientist and Widmark's general are all classics. The icing on the cake is the two scenes with Slim Pickens. And the debate between Caine and Chamberlain over whether the bees should be called African or Brazilian. By the way, why does Richard Chamberlain look like he's on a break from a touring company of Victor/Victoria?
One plus of the DVD version is a half hour behind the scenes feature: "Inside the Swarm". You get to see several of the actors talk with utmost sincerity (and straight faces!) about the "real" dangers of killer bees.
The folks who wrote "Airplane!" couldn't even make a parody of this -- it's already hysterical.
"The Swarm" has its share of flaws, no doubt about that: it's overlong, it's filled with genre cliches (many veterans cast in pointless supporting roles, indifferent romances) and it's occasionally overacted, especially by Michael Caine, who has a role far below his abilities. However, those who are calling it "terrible" and "campy" are REALLY overdoing it. The special effects are actually FIRST-RATE and most of the attack sequences are utterly convincing. Don't judge the film on the basis of its bad reputation; watch it for yourself and you'll discover that, while it's not an "art" film, it's an agreeable way to kill two hours.
Irwin Allen's first two disaster movies, "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The
Towering Inferno" worked as above average productions because there always
seemed to be one foot in the ground of pseudo-reality that made you feel
compelled by what you saw. But more importantly, Allen had competent
directors like Ronald Neame and John Guillermin handling the actors and the
end-result usually produced good performances, considering the material
(especially Steve McQueen in "Inferno.") Unfortunately, with "The Swarm"
Allen went to the well once too much and served up a more outlandish kind of
disaster story, and to complicate matters further he took over the
director's chores himself and boy does it show. There is literally no
coherent story structure at all in this film, and the all-star cast is
uniformly bad from top to bottom. What was Allen thinking with that
pointless love-triangle plot involving the over-the-hill gang of Fred
MacMurray, Ben Johnson and Olivia de Havilland? Did he really expect people
to take seriously lines like "The bees have always been our friends!" or
"Attention, a swarm of killer bees is coming this way!" This is the kind of
movie that might have worked as a short, low-budget B/W flick in the 50s
(okay, a "B" movie, no pun intended) but as a follow-up to solid efforts
like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" this film is only
good from a silly camp standpoint.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a point of reference, I don't rate every other movie I see a 1/10.
Of the 1,005 movies I've bothered to rate over the past few years, I've
only given 20 of them a 1/10. It takes a "special" movie can join the
ranks of Prime Evil, The Creeping Terror, and Curse of the Swamp
Creature. The Swarm is one of those "special" movies. Watching The
Swarm is something of an endurance test. At one point, I felt like I
had been sitting and watching for days. I checked the counter and
discovered I had only seen 76 minutes I still had another 80 minutes
left to go.
So what went wrong? In a word - everything. As I've already indicated, The Swarm is dull and tedious. If I'm ever forced to watch this movie again, I can only hope it's the 116 minute version and not the 156 minute director's cut. In addition, the characters do and say the most unrealistic things. Take the movies supposed hero played by Michael Caine and the General played by Richard Widmark. Every conversation these two have is full of absolute nonsense and done in volumes usually reserved for football games. The fact that these two NEVER attempt to work together to accomplish anything is ridiculous. Or, take the fact that Caine's character, who has been appointed by the White House to head up the operation, spends more time tracking down a 10 year-old runaway than he does finding a solution to the bee problem. Unrealistic. The Swarm also features a couple of the most inane love story subplots I've seen. The first features Caine and Katharine Ross who never seem to get beyond admitting they "like" each other. How old are these people? 12? The second is the senior citizen love triangle that goes nowhere and has no real purpose. It's like watching a bad episode of "The Love Boat". Finally, some of the acting is downright atrocious. Caine and Ross are good actors when given decent material. But in The Swarm, Caine appears to be in it solely for the paycheck and Ross acts as if she realizes how bad it is and just wants out.
Picking the negatives out of The Swarm is like shooting fish in a barrel it's impossible to miss. And I haven't even discussed the plot killer African bees threaten the Southwest. Not a bad idea, but the execution in The Swarm is the worst.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Disaster" movies, along with gangster flicks, have always been my favourite movie genres. Having said that, I admit it was with a bit of apprehension that I threw "The Swarm" into the DVD player. The film has received such a bad rap over the years that I wasn't quite sure what to expect (so bad/cheesy it's funny was what I was prepared for.) Well...to my surprise -and, I admit, pleasure- I quite liked it. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief a hell of a lot, and the two and a half hour length seems a bit tedious at times (as it will with most long movies), but I've seen movies that were a lot worse. Too many, in fact, to list here, and I'm not a really picky film-goer. As part of the disaster genre (and, yes, "The Swarm" ultimately struck as being more of a homage to old 50's sci-fi), sure, it's no "Poseidon Adventure" or "Towering Inferno", but I'd say it's in the same ballpark. As for the film itself, you have to admit that the cast is pretty impressive (I mean, Henry Fonda as the self-sacrificing immunologist?) even if Michael Caine does gnaw on the scenery a bit too much at times (as most great actors seem prone to do more often than most). Mind you, at least he's rewarded by being one of the few characters (I believe there's only two) who make it all the way to the end of the thing. Sure, some of the dialogue is a little ridiculous ("The bees have always been our friends...") and overly melodramatic but that's par for the course in these types of films. Of course, I could have done without the elderly love triangle subplot (don't think I'm alone there) and I thought the whole train wreck bit was overly gratuitous, as was the nuclear powerplant exploding and wiping out some 36000 people. And, wouldn't it have been simpler just to drop a bomb on Houston instead of using flamethrowers? But, really, I don't think that using sonic vibrations to lure the bees to their fiery doom was any more of a deux ex machina than blowing the water towers at the end of "The Towering Inferno" was. Honestly, as far as the people who endlessly criticize this movie go, what were you expecting? "Citizen Kane Part II"? Sorry, it's a disaster movie, folks, and, thinking about it now, no less outlandish or ridiculous than, say, "The Day After Tomorrow". Matter of fact, I liked "The Swarm" more...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Awful, awful, awful "killer insect" film from Irwin Allen who hires
names from the past just so that the potential of putting ass in seats,
but that certainly didn't happen.
Overlong (this should have been 90 minutes tops), with subplots that should never have been added to begin with (geriatric love triangle between Suthun-voiced Olivia De Havilland, retired "master mechanic" Ben Johnson, and store clerk Fred MacMurray which ends with all of them dying in a train disaster! Patty Duke is pregnant and has her baby. County "water control" Slim Pickins crying over the body of his soldier son, getting access inside the military base after threatening to cut off the water! A little boy who watches his parents die, drives their car into the nearest town, sees a hallucination of a giant bee that Michael Caine successfully helps him free himself from, later returning with some boyhood friends to hurl Molotov cocktails at a tree containing the swarm!). Michael Caine just shows up at the military outpost and is provided carte blanche by the President of the United States much to military man, Richard Widmark's chagrin. He declares himself an entomologist, and his credentials are later confirmed. So Henry Fonda (the best bit of casting this film has going for it) and Richard Chamberlain (absolutely wasted) are brought in as important scientists to either find a cure for the bees or to kill them. Caine gets a love interest in Katherine Ross (a military doc), but they register zilch in chemistry. The movie spends plenty of time showing this black mass representing the swarm in the sky but this isn't the least bit scary. Slow motion attacks on people is more laughable in its presentation than convincing as a horror in motion. Allen loves to blow everything up or set it on fire. Houston in flames thanks to the moronic use of blow torches by men in white suits and helmets who seem to just aim at anything including their fellow man! Finally, it is discovered that the Africans (the term for the African bees!) are drawn to a type of alarm that sounded by the military installation attacked at the beginning of the film. Caine and Ross (of course), miraculously escape Houston unharmed despite everybody else bites the dust, and get back to the Texas base, working on a payload carrying horns sounding off the same alarm that drew the bees in the first place. Missiles drop and KABOOM! A nice fire cloud in the background as Caine and Rose hug each other tight. This is as terrible as most tell you. It is truly sad some good actors are attached to it, but disaster films often occupied old Hollywood veterans in key roles to draw audiences. In this film's case, people fortunately didn't waste their time watching this drivel. De Havilland with her Southern accent is rather humorous, and the old timers out to gain her hand are ditched like toilet paper after a trip to the bathroom which left wondering why on earth they were in this film at all besides their recognizable names in the cast. Widmark and Caine often scream at each other for no reason; all I could guess was there seem to be this need to pit military against scientists which might explain their unnecessary animosity. Jose Ferrer's casting left me baffled: Irwin Allen's cousin's brother's uncle could have played this throwaway part. Also given parts are Cameron Mitchell as a military sergeant who receives news from the Pentagon and transfers information back and forth to the Texas military base, Lee Grant (her role is meaningless) as a reporter who shows news reports of the Texas town disaster where 200 locals perish due to a killer bee attack, and Bradford Dillman as Widmark's second he orders around.
Overcrowded and yet absurdly plotted, The Swarm deserves its rotten reputation. Sadly this was MacMurray's final film maybe after this disaster he felt the need to call it quits! Fonda using himself as a guinea pig with no one else in the lab while injecting himself with an experimental serum makes no sense! He injects himself with the venom and has trouble reaching the anti-toxin vial!
Irwin Allens's Production of The Swarm received almost universally negative reviews and was laughed off the screen by audiences but as an entertainment it's hard not to love. A super swarm of killer bees (meticulously animated by painting black dots on the film frame by frame) invades America killing everyone in their path including an all star cast of aging Hollywood A-listers, the army and even a playground filled with school children in one bravura, tasteless sequence. The body count accelerates deliriously as cities burst into flames, passenger trains hurl off their tracks and even a power plant under attack goes nuclear! The chaos and carnage is EPIC in scale while the genuinely great actors speak hilariously bad lines like; 'Bees, bees what a lot of bees.'. One of two films released by The Master of Disaster that year which helped kill his career the other being; Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie at the cinema when it first came out and thought it was great. Now of course i am 34 years older and can see the flaws,but unlike other reviewers i still find it entertaining. This was made during the period of the star studded disaster movies alongside the Agatha Christie movies. The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Hindenberg etc etc. The scene with Olivia De Havilland watching helpless as the swarm attack the children at her school is still tear jerking. Some of the dialog of Richard Widmarks, i must admit was over the top and in one instance ludicrous. 'Quote' Now we have one of them in captivity they might come back and we'll be waiting 'Unquote'. The effects were very good. Much better than the computer effects of today, simply because they used real bees. Lots of good actors from the old school, which certain stars of today i won't mention. Ben Johnton, the for mentioned Olivia die Havilland and Richard Widmark, Fred McMurry, Jose Ferrer, Richard Chamberlain and a small cameo from The High Chapparal's Cameron Mitchell. Still an entertaining movie. Make your own minds up if you have never seen it. Kevin Thomas.
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