Satan Bug, The (1965)

Satan Bug, The (1965)

“A virus — airborne, but self-perpetuating. Indestructible. Once released it will multiply at a power beyond our calculations.”

When a life-destroying virus is stolen from a biological warfare lab, a former private investigator and intelligence agent (George Maharis) is recruited to help track down the lunatic (Richard Basehart) who threatens the existence of the world.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Francis Films
  • Dana Andrews Films
  • John Sturges Films
  • Richard Basehart Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Scientists
  • World Domination

Described on Wikipedia as a “crime science fiction suspense film”, this adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s 1962 novel is an ultimately disappointing entry in this subgenre. After living through a year+ of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was deeply interested in watching a film about how a lethal virus might be let loose on the planet — yet the first half-hour consists primarily of elaborate set-up and talk. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times got it right in the opening lines of his review:

“For all the talented people who worked on or in The Satan Bug… this highfalutin drama about stolen death germs and hot pursuit has much the triteness and monotony of an average serial television show. That is because its information is mainly conveyed in talk rather than in the kind of action that makes for excitement and suspense.”

Attempts are made to inject suspense and tension — as when Maharis (handsome but bland) suits up to enter a lab he may not return from alive:

… and the numerous times when a vial of astronomically lethal liquid is seconds away from shattering and spreading:

— but it’s somehow not as compelling as it could (and very much should) be. With that said, director John Sturges and DP Robert Surtees make excellent use of location shooting opportunities across Southern California:

… including an encounter in Palm Springs and the climax in Dodger Stadium.

Watch for Dana Andrews in a minor role as the father of Maharis’s lover (Anne Francis):

… and Richard Bull (of “Little House on the Prairie” fame) as one among several besuited men attempting to handle the situation:

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Surtees’ cinematography

  • Effective location shooting in Southern California

  • De Patie-Freleng’s creative opening credits
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s score

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.


2 thoughts on “Satan Bug, The (1965)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I disagree with your assessment on the score that I find the film very interesting and gripping. It’s a loose adaptation of the book and has sadly, and obviously, been moved Stateside; this is a film that could stand a remake to ensure it gains back its British qualities that have been lost.

    However, Sturges does a great job in keeping tension and interest, at least for me. Jerry Goldmith contributes a superb atmospheric score as well (I have the CD). That said, it’s not a significant film or influential in any way so not must see by FFs.

    If you want to see a film about a pandemic that is uncomfortably close to the situation (albeit heightened for drama) see Contagion (2011).

  2. First viewing. Agreed; not must-see.

    Re: “…the first half-hour consists primarily of elaborate set-up and talk.”, I would go further; the whole first hour feels that way. Its aim is to build suspense (to give the viewer, as one character puts it, “the creeps”) but, alas, it fails to do so. It just feels slow.

    Once the second half kicks in – and we know more about the villains – the pace picks up a bit. Still, (aside from a modicum of action development) the emphasis on talk remains. There’s even a lot of talk about the awful action that could possibly take place.

    This is one of the talkiest ‘thrillers’ ever. Strangely, the viewer might be forgiven for wanting something really terrible to happen just so everybody will shut up!

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