Bees! Bees! Bees!
It’s a swarm of killer African bees vs an amazing All-Star cast.
The Swarm (1978) Official Trailer – Michael Caine, Katharine Ross Killer Bee Movie HD, Movieclips Trailer Vault and photos © Warner Bros.
In The Swarm (1978) Olivia de Havilland stars as a character that could until her final screen moments, easily be a character in her most celebrated film Gone With The Wind (1939). As Maureen Schuester, she is a woman torn between her duty as the local school ma’am with inner torment.
Maureen Schuester has to decide between her two love-lorn suitors. However, this is no romantic movie, it’s De Havilland’s second disaster movie in two years with the first being Airport 77 (1977). There she appeared as a character who was reunited with a lost love, just as disaster struck.
This film, however, is her first collaboration with the “Master of Disaster”, Irwin Allen. It’s one of the most panned movies ever despite – to my surprise – one Oscar nomination. As in all Irwin Allen films, she’s part of an All-Star cast including many familiar faces from this genre with a few more random big names from other films making an appearance.
There’s Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Lee Grant and Richard Widmark. Not forgetting Henry Fonda. Although he probably wished we would. This film is definitely the guiltiest pleasure. But I’m sure Caine would disagree. In this review, I’m reviewing the DVD version which meant about 40 more minutes of the movie (and possibly much more despair from Darlin Husband).
In a nutshell, what is it all about? The film starts with a group of soldiers in protective suits and helmets of either orange (note this appears to be a favourite colour in the Irwin movie) or white – with guns storming into a military base. After they reach the communication centre, they discover everyone in the room is dead… but from what?
An unarmed man in a safari suit with a penchant for sunflower seeds arrives on the scene, it’s Dr Brad Crane (Caine). Bizarrely he tells the men, now headed by General Slater (Widmark) – who has just arrived by chopper, (as all significant actors do in Allen movies) – see Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno (1974)) – he’s an entomologist. Crane tells how he just happened to follow a swarm of bees there. This could be an excuse behind the biggest heist ever in a Die Hard (1988) movie, but it’s not. His story is backed up by the evidence, and the pretty
useless Captain Helena Anderson (Ross).
Then we meet the Durant family who is having a nice wee family picnic. Mum and dad are in matching straw hats and 70s wear. Suddenly a swarm of bees attack them, and young son Paul takes refuge in the car. Meanwhile, his family die in slow motion from bees! Bees! Bees!. Despite bees making it impossible to see out the front screen young Paul zooms off – driving very well for a 14-year-old with a bee-covered window screen – heading for Marysville.
It is there that we meet Miss Schuester (De Havilland) and the men in her life Felix (Ben Johnson) and Mayor Clarence (Fred MacMurray) as the trio prepares for the village festival. The men appear to have an ongoing rivalry for Miss Schuester and her affections. This festival will attract thousands and thousands of people
and…. bees! Bees! Bees! as it’s a flower festival…
Paul drives into town and smashes into a floral display. He’s taken to hospital, where Anderson and
Caine Crane visit him, but Paul’s delirious seeing a giant bee. With some rather fab OTT seventies special effects. But not so delirious that he has insight into this, but delirious enough to be afraid.. very afraid.
Then after visiting the doomed picnic area, Crane suggests the bees may be multiplying in number. Crane goes all detective. He suggests as the remnants of plastic cups are found that the bees might be using them to line their nests. Even though there is no sign of the hats which would possibly be more likely. Meanwhile, the bees en masse head for Marysville.
So it’s fear all around, as seen in that all-important meeting on the impending disaster (with the all-star cast in attendance). But – as Columbo would say – with just one more thing, which the biologically clueless Mayor and Schuester totally didn’t think of. The flower festival is in full swing… bees like flowers, bees get pollen from flowers and bees make honey (duh). But at least – if they remember – the town’s air warning tannoy should be now be working.
In the best of the rest, Slater and Crane have a clash of wills throughout much of the movie… Katherine Ross makes doe eyes at Crane (must be his Oscar-nominated natty attire of safari suits, jackets with elbow patches or perhaps it’s the white (science man) jacket, you decide). Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain are just there.. and both shipped in by helicopter (of course). And Lee Grant is wasted as a newsreader, she should have been allowed to do so much more.. and she’s got Airport 77 (1977) on her film CV.
Chamberlain fits in an all to brief appearance before becoming King of the 1980s Mini Series. Henry Fonda appears too for added presence and gravitas. There’s also a wee useful biological lesson from Caine on the body structure of the killer African bee. There’s a pregnant lady. There’s the kid with the giant lollipop. And more OTT effects of the same giant bee.
But there were far too few appearances of this giant insect during key parts of the story. And there are also special effects seeing the story unfold from a bee’s viewpoint and The Towering Inferno – also directed by Allen – is being shown at the cinema in Marysville, adding to the general silliness.
The acting in this film is so worth a mention. Widmark, as the US Airforce General Slater, plays it like all the times he’s played this type of character before. He acts in full we will march against the enemy mode even stressing that even if they are bees we can’t underestimate them etc.
Chamberlain is underused at first – and he looks fed up at times – and then hasn’t much to do, until much later. But he does have what reminded me of a few scenes from what looks like The Towering Inferno footage but from another actor. Fonda as the antidote-seeking Doctor is fantastically cast and in a true style nearly steals the movie.
But this honour must go to Caine as the passionate insect lover, as he gives the hammed-up performance of his career. And that’s including The Hand (1981), Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and most of his 1980s appearances. He utters that immortal line (that he should have won an Oscar for alone, and possibly Caine’s most passionate speech to date).
We’ve been fighting a losing battle against the insects for fifteen years, but I never thought I’d see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.
As for the actresses, the most prime soap-worthy performance has to go to Ross almost auditioning for her role in The Colbys (1985-87). However, a close contender has to be in De Havilland’s slow-motion reaction to seeing the horror developing outside, as a number of school children meet their last moments via the bees.
But there are several big questions unanswered in this film (and that’s including those 40 minutes that we added for no apparent reason). One that haunts you is just who is it that De Havilland’s character would have gone for. Both men obviously adore her Southern accent, and devotion to the children and know she’s a sucker for flowers. This answer is still unquestioned, despite De Havilland’s love-struck suitors getting extra air time in the DVD version.
She escapes (how?) to join the evacuating masses. With the suitors in tow. Still bickering. Would it be the mayor or the cafe owner, that is the question… Had this trio continued their love triangle, methinks it would have been like in the same plot in Neighbours (1980). In the Aussie soap, similarly aged Lou Carpenter and Harold Bishop, as men in the same professions as these movie suitors, fought on/off for years for Madge Ramsay’s love.
Also more importantly, why wasn’t the Flower Festival cancelled – surely our bee-loving Crane could have shared more of his wisdom here for the masses – and what was the significance of those bloody sunflower seeds? And finally why oh why didn’t Allen seize the moment, and have Caine written in as saying in his character, “My name is Crane, Dr Crane. And not a lot of people know that”?
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film was reviewed for The Second Annual Olivia de Havilland Blogathon + Errol Flynn Blogathon run by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Movies. Other films with this cast, include Olivia de Havilland in Murder is Easy, The Screaming Woman and more. Michael Caine stars in Dressed to Kill, Bullseye, The Wrong Box and many more. Richard Widmark in Murder on the Orient Express. Katherine Ross in The Legacy, The Graduate and Voyage of the Damned. Richard Chamberlain stars in The Slipper and the Rose and The Towering Inferno. Lee Grant also stars in Airport 77, Omen II and more. Henry Fonda stars in On Golden Pond.