Swarm, The (1978)

Swarm, The (1978)

“Oh, my God — bees, bees, millions of bees!”

A renowned entomologist (Michael Caine) clashes with a military general (Richard Widmark) over how to deal with an attack by killer bees.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cameron Mitchell Films
  • Disaster Flicks
  • Fred MacMurray Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Katharine Ross Films
  • Killer Animals
  • Lee Grant Films
  • Michael Caine Films
  • Olivia de Havilland Films
  • Richard Chamberlain Films
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Scientists

Helmed by famed “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen (producer of The Poseiden Adventure and The Towering Inferno), The Swarm is an astonishingly boring mess of trite dialogue, ridiculous scenarios, and embarrassing performances by a host of big-name, Oscar-winning actors who should have known better than to attach themselves to this project. Those who argue that Michael Caine is incapable of giving a bad performance, for instance, need look no further than his role here as the film’s Hero, Dr. Crane. Meanwhile, he’s matched by Katherine Ross’s outrageously wooden performance as the requisite Beautiful Female Doctor who conveniently serves as Crane’s Love Interest; she possesses not a shred of conviction in this role. Aging screen legends Olivia De Havilland, Fred McMurray, and Ben Johnson try gamely, but ultimately embarrass themselves in an utterly gratuitous “romantic triangle” subplot.

Faring only marginally better are Richard Widmark as the Crusty General (Caine’s central nemesis):

and Henry Fonda as a Renowned Scientist who may or may not be able to develop an antidote to the killer bees’ venom.

Other big names (Lee Grant as The Newscaster, Patty Duke as The Pregnant Woman in Distress, etc.) have such inconsequential roles that they’re barely worth mentioning.

Fortunately, The Swarm is just bad enough to provide some unintentional chuckles throughout its otherwise unendurable running time. Allen’s use of slow-motion at critical attack times — the initial Idyllic Picnic Scene, for instance, or the Schoolyard Deluge — is good for a few laughs, as is Widmark’s consistent labeling of the bees as “Africans”, which provides a jaw-droppingly offensive commentary throughout the film: “By tomorrow there will be no more Africans — at least not in the Houston sector.” Much less amusing is Allen’s deathly slow pacing, which effectively nullifies any potential for terror the film may have possessed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Unintentionally campy performances and dialogue

  • A few mildly freaky scenes of “killer bees” (though they’re too little, too late)

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.


2 thoughts on “Swarm, The (1978)

  1. A MESS!!!!!!!

    Exactly how bad is ‘The Swarm’, you ask? Much worse, I’m afraid, than just plain bad. It’s two-and-a-half hours of bad, and its badness is relentless. It’s almost as if the film itself thought at some point that, if it just…kept…going…it might somehow slip into gear and become good. But no. It shifts into reverse from the opening credits and stays there. The film is actually brilliantly titled: it is a swarm of elements that should never have been brought together.

    This is actually a film that should never have been (or ‘bee’ – sorry) written up in any book about films. Not even a book focused on disaster films. I hesitate to agree that it should be listed anywhere.

    Awful. OK?

    Yes, peppered throughout are the occasional, hilariously bad moments. I admit I did chuckle. Some. I couldn’t say at what, though. At the time, I was mostly flailing in badness quicksand. (I do believe I found Caine’s performance often marvelously out-at-sea.)

    That said – I do remember two things about the film:

    – the few shocking moments in which victims of near-death-by-bees experiences are frozen in fear as they envision themselves inches away from menacing, practically screen-size bees.

    – Henry Fonda’s performance. Fonda is not high on my list of actors but there have been times (i.e., ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, etc.) when I have found his work astonishing. Bizarrely, ‘The Swarm’ is one such time! This actor manages the impossible: while he’s on-screen, he convinces you that you are watching a quality film!

  2. In fairness to the film – and you get no arguments from me, it’s a turkey – the version on DVD and BD is the extended edit running 156 minutes.

    When released to cinemas it only ran 116 minutes so much less interminable.

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