The Swarm (1978) – Spoiler Review Pt. 1

Rundown of the Main Plot

The Swarm is a Science-Fiction horror movie about a swarm of Africanized Killer Bees that have been scooped up from Venezuela by a series of hurricanes and deposited in Texas. The movie opens with a military reconnaissance team discovering a United States ICBM base where almost the entire duty roster has been killed. At first they suspect a chemical attack but a scientist (played by Michael Caine) appears and claims that it was a swarm of bees. He is arrested for being a foreigner on a military base in the midst of an attack but the base’s doctor (Katharine Ross) backs his claim. The President’s science advisor assigns the surly general (Richard Widmark) to follow Caine’s lead much to his dismay. Caine calls in a group of eccentric scientists (Richard Chamberlain, Henry Fonda) to try and solve the problem without harming the surrounding ecosystem.

After a local boy is orphaned when his family is attacked by the swarm, the local town of Maryville is involved while in the middle of their annual Flower Festival. Caine and Ross struggle to protect the town while working toward a solution to their problem. It turns out that receiving any more than three stings is automatically fatal to victims. Victims who pull through after less than three stings can still suffer a cardiovascular failure out of the blue. The surviving boy tries to avenge his family with firebombs but only pisses off the swarm and causes them to attack Maryville head on. Suffering major casualties in the town, the military decides to evacuate the town but the train used derails and explodes. Meanwhile, the bees have started to advance across the Texas countryside and end up in Houston. At the eleventh hour, Caine figures out that the bees were originally driven to attack by the sound of an alarm on the military base. They throw together a plan of action and the military is able to lure the bees out into the gulf and firebombs them all straight to Hell.

Be Kind to the Bees

I watched this with my mother (who is a beekeeper) and we were both pleasantly surprised that the movie made a huge effort to protect the reputation of bees. Caine stresses repeatedly that the American Honey Bee is not to blame for any of the carnage. In fact, the movie correctly asserts that we rely on the bees for pollinating our crops and thus our agricultural system depends on bees. The scientists try to come up with several plans that would prevent the death or destruction of the environment. The villainous bees are depicted as fairly innocent as well. They are just insects driven to attack through their interaction with human beings, something that should not happen. Of course, the movie neglects to talk about how the real-life Africanized bees were created by humans through selective breeding in Brazil.

Loose Padding

There are numerous plots added to the movie that feel like they were written in for two reasons. A) They wanted to add more movie and television stars to the cast B) This was a television miniseries and they needed to fill two and a half hours. These plots get absolutely ridiculous and I have to detail them all.

  1. Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson are both thirsty for Olivia de Havilland

At some point early in the movie, we cut to Olivia de Havilland who is arranging flowers for the festival. She is approached by Fred MacMurray (the town’s mayor) and Ben Johnson (a retired engineer) who are both dating her. The two men snipe at each other but Olivia laughs it off. Throughout the movie, they both propose to her but she avoids answering either one. She points out that since she is the School Superintendent, she is a working woman and will give them their answer at the end of the school term. The three of them board the evacuation train together and are on it when it crashes and explodes.

This was a completely extraneous plot as the three rarely felt like they were in a movie called The Swarm. They were in a separate romantic comedy the whole time. MacMurray and de Havilland are present at a strategy meeting with the military and de Havilland witnesses the deaths of several small school children. Other than that, they don’t seem to act like there is a deadly threat anywhere near them. They also never cut back to them after the train crash so we never discover if any of them survived much less whether Olivia made up her mind about who to marry if anybody.

  1. Slim Pickens Steals a Dead Body

Sometime after the deaths at the ICBM base (the inciting incident of the movie), they have examined all of the dead bodies and placed them in a makeshift morgue. A county engineer played by Slim Pickens shows up outside of the fence at the base and threatens to shut off the base’s utilities if they do not let him speak to his son. The military quickly discovers that this man’s son was one of the many who suffered horrible death from bees. They let the man onto the base and show him his deceased son’s body bag (they never open it). Slim reaches down and picks his son up and cradles the body in his arms and starts to walk out with it. He is told that he will be shot if he tries to take the body. He dares them to follow through and they back down and he leaves with his son’s body. It is actually a really touching scene because Slim Pickens sells the heck out of it. However, Pickens never appears in the rest of the movie and the scene has zero impact on the rest of the film.

Check Part 2 for more craziness!

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