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Have Cheetah,Will View #268 – “The Swarm” (1978)

Its 10:55 pm
raining

The cheetah and I love our creature features/crazy nature movies. The bigger the creature,the better! So I decided to show him a movie that I actually saw at the theater when it came it. Of course I needed a hand from our contact (and fellow The Crusaders fan) “M” over at Warner Brothers Archives to send me a copy of “The Swarm”.

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“The Swarm” was one of famed director-producer Irwin Allen’s last films in a career that spanned over 30 years and he left a handful of beloved cult classics like “Lost In Space”,”Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “Land of the Giants”.
But Allen as best known as the “Master of Disaster” for the various huge movies that placed all-star Hollywood casts in mortal danger. Films like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” were monster hits and combined with “Earthquake” which took advantage of Irwin’s twin hits and copied them right down to the casting,the middle of the 1970s had no shortage of people in peril films.

I was 14 when I saw “The Swarm” and had only seen it once or twice on TV since then.
I had fond memories of it,it was an exciting movie about a what was then a very real threat,the invasion of the African killer bees from South America. The news was full of stories about how bad the invasion could be and how powerful the venom was,that it could kill a grown adult with as little as 5-6 stings.

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Irwin Allen decided to produce and also direct “The Swarm”,while he had two huge hits,as of late his career at that time was a bit rocky,he was still doing movies but now they were made for TV films and back in the 1970s,TV movies were seen as the minor leagues (until the mini-series Roots changed that).  Allen need a hit and so using the “ripped from the headlines”,he produced “The Swarm”,a film about a huge invasion of killers invading Texas and how the United States would react to such a threat.

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Let me be perfectly blunt here,many people and critics have gone on record as saying “The Swarm” is the worst film ever made,that isn’t right. Yes,it suffers from some very weird story telling and Michael Caine as our hero Dr. Brad Crane,does some seriously overacting at times but Allen isn’t entirely at fault.
“The Swarm” was based on a novel but the screenplay was written by Stirling Silliphant,a VERY good writer who won a Oscar for his screenplay of “In the Heat of the Night”,the man knew his way around a typewriter.

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But everyone has a bad day and in “The Swarm”,Silliphant had his. His screenplay was much too long and far too chunky.  One wonders how much time he was given to come up with a script,it seemed rushed upon my viewing it this time around.
Now while Allen had experience as a director,he would have best been served as producer only,with such a massive story,he got lost in behind the story.

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There are some truly questionable plot holes that even today will have you shaking your head,the main one being a sweet love triangle between cowboy Ben Johnson,town mayor Fred McMurray and school superintendent Olivia De Havilland. The first half of the film spends a lot of time developing this storyline but then with Maysville,the town the Swarm overwhelms in its first major attack being evacuated,the script then kills ALL three characters when the train they are on crashes.

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Some of the other stars also don’t fare very well….Caine finds himself pretty much yelling at Richard Widmark in all their scenes together,Henry Fonda plays noble Dr. Krim who tries to find an effective anti-venom,Katherine Ross plays a military doctor with whom Caine falls for,Bradford Dillman who spends most of his time “making a dossier” on Dr. Crane. Other notable stars include Slim Pickens,Lee Grant,Richard Chamberlain,Patty Duke and even crusty Cameron Mitchell grabs some screen time.

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The true stars are the 20 million honey bees who used as The Swarm. This is the most impressive part of the film,using live bees being handled by professional bee handlers.
In the behind the scene special feature on the making of “The Swarm”,you can see how the bees were used and how the stunt people handled it. Over 800,000 bees had their stingers removed for key close up scenes and according to reports,only one person was actually stung by one bee and that was Olivia de Havilland.

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“The Swarm” was very earnestly made and Allen did his very best in trying to make an exciting topical film but “The Swarm” failed to hit at the box office.
After producing two more box office failures,Irwin Allen stuck to television movies and one short lived series called “Code Red”.
As for the invasion of the African killer bees? Well,you can read an interesting article by going here.

The original run time for “The Swarm” was 2 hours,in the Warner Brothers Archive BluRay release,an additional 30 minutes has been added,sadly it doesn’t do much to improve the film.
“The Swarm” is rated PG and special features include the mentioned “making of” and the original trailer.

While the cheetah wasn’t too impressed,I am going to be a bit more forgiving,Allen had his heart in the right place,with a more experienced director,”The Swarm” could have worked and worked well.  You can purchase the movie and form your own opinion by going to the website of Warner Brothers Archives.

What film from the 1970s is your favorite? Drop a comment and share it with the cheetah and myself….

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17 thoughts on “Have Cheetah,Will View #268 – “The Swarm” (1978)

    • This really was a noble misfire,I really think Allen would have had the script re-wrote if he had just produced the film instead of director as well,he just spread himself too thin…..

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  1. I remember the Irwin Allen disaster film craze and I saw Poseidon Adventure (which I loved) and Towering Inferno (not so much) and this one (not so much either). The 70s is the apex of film–in my opinion. This is the era of Taxi Driver, McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Conversation and so many, many more iconic films.The movie going public was a more discerning audience back then and not as susceptible to blatant knock offs of hits. I think most people–exempting the critics–really enjoyed The Poseidon Adventure. Then they tolerated, but were disappointed in, Towering Inferno. By the time The Swarm came around they were “stick a fork in us, we’re done.”
    All that said, this is an excellent post. Very entertaining…Now here’s one for you, Michael, something obscure from the 70s that I really like but the critics were blah about: Buster and Billie. Two more: Cinderella Liberty and There was a Crooked Man.

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    • I shall have to investigate those last three,I have heard of Cinderella Liberty ,I believe Marsha Mason was in that one but that is all I know about it and never heard of the other two.
      I have been enjoying going back in time and looking at these films from my childhood. My family was very poor and we considered the theater a huge treat so getting a chance to see films I missed is a real joy….If WB put any of the films out,I’ll see if the Archives has them….

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  2. Cinderella Liberty is a very good movie, a tear jerker. Yes Marsha Mason is in it and so is James Caan. There was a Crooked Man is also very, very good. It stars Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda. Excellent Western. Buster and Billie is the lesser of the three, but I find it particularly poignant. It’s a coming of age/Tragedy set in, probably, the 40s. It stars Jan Michael Vincent. It’s kind of a cult movie.

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  3. I’ll see just about anything with James Caan in it. So it’s weird that I’ve never seen Cinderella Liberty.

    I bet if they made The Swarm today, they’d never get away with removing all those stingers. Peta would be in an uproar, wouldn’t they?!

    That’s like when we were watching The Andromeda Strain recently, there was a scene where they smothered a monkey. The ASPCA supervised closely and seconds after the monkey stopped breathing, the scene evidently cut & someone rushed in and revived it. But it was harrowing to watch! And today, Peta would have a collective heart attack, I think. The ASPCA was Peta Lite.

    Some of my ’70s faves: Willie Wonka, Alien (none of the others following come close, in my opinion) The Exorcist, and I think I’m the only person on earth–possibly the galaxy–who liked Days of Heaven.

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    • If The Swarm was made,it would be done with CGI,depending on the budget,it could look great or SyFy Channel bad.
      The 70s had some true classics….the cheetah and I reviewed “Night Moves” and a smattering of other 70s films. We’re going to looking at a classic from 1971 next week…..should be a lot of fun!!
      Days of Heaven…..who was in that?

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  4. I look forward to hearing about this 1971 classic. As I recall, I was still fairly happy in 1971! The ’70s were my time……:)

    So Days of Heaven, you may or may not recall, was one of the earliest and biggest box office flops in history and ruined the director’s career, more or less. Period piece taking place at the turn of the century, starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard.

    I was so sad when Sam Shepard passed away. Not only a really good actor (in my opinion) but a playwright too (I’m sure everybody knows).

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