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The Swarm

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The Swarm (1978) by Irwin Allen, starring Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray
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The Swarm (1978) by Irwin Allen, starring Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Olivia  de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray

Irwin Allen did quite a few disaster movies (The Poseidon Adventure, Airport) that were commercial, if not always critical, successes. The Swarm, in contract, was a flop both commercially and critically — and a massive waste of some very good acting talent as well.

The problem with The Swarm isn’t related to the acting — it’s how the disasters pile up, one after another to the point of being ridiculous. The acting is fine, although the dialogue runs the gamut from the predictable, to the silly (such as this gem from protagonist Michael Caine: “And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.”)

Something else that needs to be mentioned are the special effects — in and of themselves, they’re not bad, but they are unrealistic. For example, a train derails in the movie — and all of the train cars, that carry no fuel, explode. The bees have near-human intelligence, and a nasty streak as if they were graduates of the Sauron Institute for the Criminally Vicious. They start by attacking a nuclear missile silo, and go up from there.

Subplots galore

As is normal for one of Irwin Allen’s disaster movies, there are several subplots running at the same time:

  • Michael Caine (Second Hand Lions, Batman Begins). The lead scientist trying to stop the invasion, with the help of:
  • Henry Fonda (Advise and Consent12 Angry MenYoung Mr Lincoln). The elderly and wheelchair-bound scientist who tries to find an antidote for the bees’ lethal injection. It should be said that his character’s death scene, which I first saw 40 years ago, remained as poignant as the first time I viewed it. As I say, the acting is fine. And frankly the best thing about the movie
  • Fred MacMurray (The Caine MutinyMy Three Sons). His final film role, as the mayor of a small town. The town’s about to have their flower festival which the bees are about to crash. He’s involved in a romantic triangle — and December romance — with:
  • Olivia de Havilland (Captain Blood; Alibi Ike), the school principal who can’t decide between Fred and:
  • Slim Pickens (Never A Dull Moment; The Black Hole)
  • Richard Widmark (Murder on the Orient Express [1974]; Road House) The military man who wants to simply destroy the bees. But Caine keeps vetoing it because of the “ecological disaster” that would ensue.

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