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THE SWARM - 4 Slimes
Rated R
Copyright 1978 Warner Bros
Reviewed by Chad Saxelid on 4 September 2002

The Characters:  

  • Bradford Crane - Michael Caine! Our passionate, compassionate, and limitlessly knowledgeable hero.
  • Helena Anderson - Katharine Ross! The famed wife of Stepford gets stung, falls in love with our hero, offers up exposition in the first half, and takes up rescuable space in the second.
  • General Thaddeus Slater - RICHARD WIDMARK! He's mad as hell about the bees and eager to spray 'em all the way there, but he gets a royal butt kicking from a mess of bugs. Stung to death.
  • Major Baker - Bradford Dillman! Weasel and punching bag. Stung to death.
  • Paul Durant - Christian Juttner! Loses his family, so he firebombs the bees, causing them to attack Marysville. Stung to death.
  • Dr. Krim - HENRY FONDA! The only immunologist in the world, and not a very good one at that. Poisons self.
  • Dr. Hubbard - Richard Chamberlain! Environmentally conscious scientist and creator of Hubbard's patented Damn Poison Pellets. Blown up.
  • Dr. Newman - Morgan Paul! Helps Dr. Crane discover the elusive ultimate weapon against the bees. Stung to death.
  • Maureen Schuster - Olivia de Havilland! School superintendent and love object. Blown up.
  • Clarence Tuttle - FRED MAC MURRAY! The Mayor of Marysville, the man behind the asprin counter, and Maureen's bachelor #1. Defenestrated.
  • Felix - BEN JOHNSON! Retired master mechanic and Maureen's bachelor #2. Defenestrated.
  • Jud Hawkins - SLIM PICKENS! The county engineer that threatens to turn off the military base's water supply if he is not allowed to see his dead son.
  • Rita - Patty Duke Astin! Pregnant widow and love object.
  • Dr. Martinez - ALEJANDRO REY! Paul and Rita's doctor. In unrequited love with Rita.
  • Anne Mac Gregor - Lee Grant! The First Network News (FNN?) reporter on the Marysville scene.
  • Dr. Andrews - Jose Ferrer! Nuclear power plant manager. Blown up.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

An armored vehicle slowly approaches what looks like a few prop sheds surrounded by a chain link fence. Out of said armored vehicle pop some clowns in garish outfits that seem cobbled together from jumpsuits and jet plane headgear. And to think that this movie was nominated for a costume design Oscar. Wow. Anyway, the clowns trot and skip around the prop sheds in a manner that is supposed to look like a military search. I guess. Eventually, F-Troop makes it inside and finds everybody in the communications center dead. Major Baker then removes his helmet to get a better look around, since, I would think, tinted visors aren't really that effective for an indoor search. Look around Baker does, in a manner that is supposed to build suspense and mystery. It doesn't. He then whips out a walkie-talkie and calls General Slater, who wants to know if there is any evidence of a chemical warfare strike. Baker replies, "No sir" while standing in a room full of men dead from obviously unknown causes, as there are no signs of any physical trauma to be seen (no gunshot wounds, bruising, swelling, hives, or any other unsightly and R rating-causing stuff). I guess that the fact he didn't immediately drop dead after taking off his non-hermetically sealed helmet is all the proof Baker needed.

Slater and his troops swoop in via a cool arrival montage, complete with triumphant music and some 'neat' visit shots to show us how powerful of a big cheese Slater is. Slater is also wearing his dress uniform, so any hiding enemy sharpshooter knows who to shoot at first. While Slater is striding around and getting saluted (whoops), our REAL hero Bradford Crane strolls into the communications center and gets more than a few guns stuck in his face. Since this is a movie, Crane can continue walking, with his arms raised, and not get shot instantly. Before Slater can do anything but growl, "Check him out!" the base radar picks up an unidentified object moving away from the base. Slater sends out some helicopters to investigate. The object is revealed to be "a moving black mass" that somehow the helicopter pilots did not see until they were right on top of it. In one of the movie's first truly hilarious sequences, the helicopters fly into the mass, which is comprised of millions of bees, and get swatted out of the sky.

The General orders Hastings Air Force to scramble all aircraft and "track those bees" (!). Crane and Slater bark and snarl at each other (something you had better get used to, it's all they do) while Irwin Allen rotates the camera around them to show us he is an auteur. Slater comes to his senses and orders Crane locked up, but then doctor Helena Anderson is escorted into the communications center. Evidently there are survivors who need antitoxins. For some reason (let's call it contrivance) Crane IS STILL THERE! The General just gave an order to lock him up; he should be GONE by now. Crane, showing that he is an entomologist that moonlights as a cardiologist, offers something called cardiopep compound. Slater rightly balks at the use of "experimental substances" on his men, especially those used by a trespasser whose motives have not been discovered, much less explained. Helena recognizes the NAME Crane (but not the face, but Crane says he's Crane, so that's good enough, I guess) and Slater gives the okay! Crane notices that Slater has all the leadership ability of (insert demeaning joke here) and offers up the usage of the only immunologist in the world, Walter Krim. Slater, knowing he's been beat by a foe far superior, weakly waves Crane away to go call Krim!

Helena then tells Slater a...uh...riveting tale of rescue and survival. She also says she saw men topside covered in bees...funny, there were no dead bodies up there when Slater and Co arrived on the scene. Come to mention it, the communications center, while littered with dead men, is surprisingly free of dead bees as well. Not one is found to corroborate Crane's or Helena's stories. As Slater digests this stunning turn of events (i.e. that bees have neutralized an ICBM site), somewhere in the world a swarm of bees shoot out of a log cannon and attack the Durant family picnic in a sequence slightly less terrifying (well, a whole lot less terrifying) than the attack on Alex Kintner in "Jaws." Paul, the sole surviving member of the family, hops in dad's Mustang and tears out of there. While this occurs, true drama unfolds in Marysville. Felix and Clarence are vying for the attentions of Maureen. As the elderly lovebirds have a komical spat about the town's flower festival banner, Paul drives into town and literally crashes the proceedings.

Meanwhile, back at the base, b-movie god Cameron Mitchell shows up as General Thompson. He slaps Slater around for a second before focusing his attentions on Crane, with whom he grants limitless powers. Crane then, in a moment of mind-boggling contrivance, reveals that he has had, all along, a list of both scientists and equipment specifically suited for a war on bugs and sets up shop in the ICBM station. Slater is suspicious that an all knowing, ready to do battle with an approaching enemy, scientist would "just happen" to show up right when that enemy strikes. (Oh, come on Slater. What are the odds, really? Millions of bees to one billion?) He tells Baker to, "Stay on the son of a bitch!"

Right then Helena receives a phone call. It seems that Marysville is close by and that young Paul needs her help. While the men under her care struggle for their lives, Helena abandons her post to go help Paul. Dr. Crane also goes along, dragging his military liaison (AKA dossier-making spy) Baker along to act as a chauffeur (hey, being the fearless leader of the powers of good should have at least one perk or two).

Paul is wildly hallucinating, seeing a giant bee hovering over him. Entomologist Crane reveals that he doesn't just moonlight as a cardiologist, but also as psychologist as well (this guy knows everything I tell you). He banishes Paul's hallucination with an ease that leaves everybody awestruck and grateful. Helena also shoots the doc some serious doe eyes, just so we know that the bees are not going to be the only ones putting the old stinger to use in this picture.

Crane and Baker then make a gratuitous stop (with Slater) at the site of the family picnic slaughter to introduce an unused subplot about the killer bees using plastic in their hives. I say unused because this is never, ever mentioned again afterwards, thus rendering the scene utterly meaningless, save for a priceless continuity gaff. Especially since, again, there is not a SINGLE DEAD BEE to be found.

Dr. Krim, the only immunologist in the world, arrives and agrees that the situation is indeed quite grim. That is all he has time for, because Jud Hawkins shows up and threatens to turn off the military base's water supply if he doesn't get to see his son. Why he isn't arrested right then and there for making a terrorist threat I don't know, besides military bases have a private, not public, water supply. Jud does get to see his dead son in a heart wrenching moment and, in a subtle touch of incompetence, the overweight Pickens effortlessly carries his dead son's body out of the facility. Thing looked like it weighed all of a pound!

Scientists Hubbard and Newman arrive and the big meeting is planned, but, before that, Crane listens to some truly lame sounding duty watch tapes. This allows for the introduction of a 'vital clue' that will be the bees eventual undoing. The meeting is held; there Crane and Hubbard have an intellectual spat over the name and nature of the enemy and Tuttle and Schuster agree to help alert and prepare Marysville. Except for the stars, not one of the other scientist extras is seen again, so why were they there?

Oh wait, Marysville, remember? Paul Durant, sweating profusely so we know he is still quite ill, slips out of the hospital and sneaks off with some friends. The boys say hello to Felix as they pass him for a nifty narrative segue. Felix takes a moment to grab a cup of coffee and introduce us to Rita, the pregnant widow of one of the men on the base, and learn from the town gossip that Felix now has the favored place in Maureen's heart (like we care about that, where the hell are the bees, burying their dead?). Felix then gives Maureen (who appears to have magically beamed back to Marysville) some flowers and lets her know that his education is entirely in his hands. Just how knowledgeable his hands are and how that knowledge can be applied to Maureen is left to our imaginations. Thank God. We then learn that Paul and his friends have journeyed to the picnic site. The bees that were not there when Crane, Baker, Slater, and bunch of other people where there a little while earlier, are back with their log cannon (which had likewise vanished), showing that they are far more intelligent than those responsible for this movie. Understanding that these are "no ordinary bees" (I'll say!) Paul decides to come back later (!).

Crane and Slater snarl at each other some more over whether or not to spray a recently discovered swarm and Crane listens to the duty watch tape yet again. This is so we know that there is something really important on it that he is not noticing and that he knows that he is not noticing it (kind of like David Hemmings and that painting in "Deep Red"). A tight close up of the duty watch tape then cuts to a tight close up of the now familiar bees on the log cannon. Paul and his friends have returned. They toss firebombs at the hive, then run and hide under some nearby trash cans (which are very clean and new-looking on the inside). The bees attack the trash cans long enough to figure out that they cannot get inside them and then head for the nearby hills.

In an area where there are NO hills, save those on the horizon, Crane and Anderson are driving around looking for Paul. When did they learn of Paul's escape and why are they in the middle of the desert? Oh, I see. So we can get a neat vista shot of a gathering swarm in a region nowhere near where the firebombing occurred. Crane turns and heads for Marysville, the bees right behind him.

Irwin Allen again shows his genius for not building suspense by stopping the action so that we have a comic/maudlin scene where kindly old Clarence proposes to Maureen, who is less than impressed. Right after that, Crane, Anderson, and the bees get to Marysville, and everybody runs around screaming and flapping their arms. We do get a slow motion shot of innocent children getting stung to death as Miss Schuster warns them (oh, the irony). To further the point that this is a truly horrifying spectacle and not a hilarious one. Miss Schuster gets a juicy "moaning with terror and grief" shot. Irwin Allen milks this for as long as he can, showing us every needless second of de Havilland's atrocious overacting, even going so far as to show us where she had run out of air to go "oooooohhhhhh" and was quite clearly standing still, waiting for Allen to say, "Cut."

Over two hundred people die in the attack on Marysville. Crane and Slater bark and snarl at each other over spraying (again!), evacuation, and even Hubbard's taking some of the bees captive (wha?). At least they agree that Marysville should be evacuated. Paul shows up and confesses that it was his firebombing that caused the disaster. Crane shares his own tale of tragic loss with Paul and requests he guard Helena, who had been stung in the attack. Yeah kid, I know you feel bad and all, so watch over one of the people injured in the attack you caused. Talk about working the old guilt trip on the kid.

Marysville is evacuated that very day, I guess. Felix and Clarence bicker komically about Maureen some more. Pregnant widow Rita goes into labor and gets carted back to the hospital. Slater chews out weasel Baker for a change and, I guess, the train leaves. The next scene takes place at night with Crane and a nostalgic Helena strolling through the now empty Marysville. We then cut back to the train and it's day again, so how long have they been on it? The bees show up again and finish the job they began in Marysville by derailing the train and making it blow up (?). Sadly, we never get to know whom Maureen would have chosen to marry. She, Clarence, and Felix all die horribly in the crash!

Undaunted (with the sole exception of Slater, who is frothing at the mouth at the lack of being able to spray at least one bee) Crane and Co drop Dr. Hubbard's patented Damn Poison Pellets on the bees. The bees just spit at them. As proven earlier by the strategic moving of their log cannon to avoid discovery, the bees are a lot smarter than anyone thought they were.

Rita the pregnant widow gives birth and her doctor admits his love in a rather stalkeresque fashion (didn't she just loose her husband something like, what, two or three days ago, dude?). In the next room over Paul, who at some point had an off screen relapse of bee stingfluenza, dies. Helena decries the worthlessness of it all. Dr. Krim then unwisely experiments on himself and does not survive to study his findings. Since he was the only immunologist in the world and had no staff to assist him, all of his boundless knowledge goes to the grave with him. Crane is overcome with grief and cries profusely (either that or he was trying to hold back a powerful sneeze while giggling). To worsen matters, Dr. Hubbard visits a nuclear power plant in the path of the bees in an effort to shut it down. The bees are more than happy to do it for him in a rather spectacular fashion and there is one less scientist on the team and some 36,000 less people in Texas.

Crane gets fired (since he lacks effective people skills and is never in his lab, I can see why), but he shows up with Helena in Houston anyway. Slater shows off his nifty command center and then at last gets to "spray the hell out" of the bees. The spray kills everything but the bees. Faced with no alternative, the authorities allow Slater to burn down Houston. Who will history blame? Slater or the bees? I vote for Slater getting the blame.

While a bunch of guys with flame throwers burn everything, including themselves, Crane and Newman, the sole surviving scientist, discover that the missile base's "sonic alarm system" was responsible for luring the bees to the base. Crane is confident that the same sound will lure the bees out of Houston. Just then the bees break through the defensive perimeter of the command center and kill everybody except Crane and Helena, who magically teleport over to Douglas Air Base, where they supervise humanity's last grasp at stopping the killer bee threat.

An oil slick is spread over the Gulf of Mexico and, as the mother of all swarms swoops in to coat the Gulf, it is set aflame. The threat is banished, but the ecological devastation to the Gulf is not addressed. Oh well.

Please note that the vicious, murderous, scum-sucking Africanized killer bee in no way resembles the industrious and hardworking American honeybee, to which we are indebted for pollinating America's bountiful crops.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Bees retrieve their dead.
  • Bees move their hives so no one can find them.
  • Killer bees are aptly named - they can carry out intricate attacks on ICBM bases, trains, or nuclear power plants.
  • Bees are like lemmings.
  • Bee swarms fly almost as fast as a Ford van can move.
  • Bees cause radio interference.
  • A general will wear his dress uniform in military action.
  • Every Air Force general has exactly two helicopters.
  • Military bases get water from public sources.
  • Air Force camouflage comes in two separate color schemes: orange and white.
  • It is okay to spray insecticide all over your food.
  • Entomologists know just about everything, including military base security.
  • There was only one immunologist in the world, and his name was Walter Krim.
  • Meat lockers lock from the inside.
  • Passenger trains are highly flammable and explode when derailed.
  • Nuclear power plants purify drinking water.
  • When faced with a threat, it is procedure to go from automatic to manual.
  • Helicopters cannot fly through swarms of bees.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • (Believe me, there is far, far more than I am able to point out.)
  • 3 min 30 sec - Why are there floor selection buttons on the outside of the elevator?
  • 3 min 53 sec - Oh, so it can double as the inside of the elevator!
  • 5 min 28 sec - A room full of people dead at their posts and you take off your helmet?
  • 6 min 11 sec - General Slater, you just identified yourself on an open broadcast during a potentially dangerous military operation. Does your sole helicopter also have a pretty neon bulls-eye on it?
  • 7 min 32 sec - Wait a minute there soldier, you're not supposed to salute your C.O. under battle conditions (the threat hasn't even been identified, much less neutralized). Then again Slater IS wearing his dress uniform.
  • 8 min 26 sec - Dr. Crane, in real life you'd be dead before your first step hit the ground.
  • 10 min - These pilots aren't even looking where they're going.
  • 11 min 36 sec - Crane is watching to his left, Slater is to his right. Director Irwin Allen just crossed the Action Axis.
  • 13 min - Director Irwin Allen's acclaimed 365 degree camera whirl, the man is an artiste!
  • 14 min - And just how does entomologist Crane know that an ICBM base as a visual communication system?
  • 15 min - Wait, just how is an entomologist's "area" easing irregular heartbeat?
  • 19 min 45 sec - Talk about having a bee in your bonnet (hehehehe).
  • 20 min 50 sec - WHY is Crane still in the communications center and NOT locked up as Slater ordered, what, five minutes ago?
  • 28 min 16 sec - This might be an ICBM base, but the security camera footage is of a power plant.
  • 30 min - The Phantom Bee attacks!
  • 45 min - That's a pretty light body bag you're carrying there, "Slim."
  • 48 min 16 sec - And how would an entomologist know that there is a duty watch taping system on an ICBM base? The world will never know.
  • 50 min - Please note that, in the background, the paraplegic Dr. Krim just kicked open a door.
  • 52 min - What do you mean you found only ONE dead bee? There should have been hundreds, if not thousands, of bee corpses.
  • 61 min - Wow, the communications center as a nifty window looking into the missile silo. That glass is flame retardant and shatter proof so the hot, concussion blast of launch will not break it. Right?
  • 65 min 22 sec - You know that the bees' retreat looks suspiciously like their arrival played in reverse.
  • 66 min 45 sec - How nice, they removed the rearview mirror so we can see just what it is that Crane is pointing at.
  • 96 min - Wait, it was just daylight a minute ago, what time frame is this?
  • 98 min - Now it's daylight again? How long have they been on this train?
  • 107 min 26 sec - Yeah Brad, what are you good for?
  • 119 min - The Phantom Bee, again!
  • 137 min - Night, day, night. MAKE UP YOUR MIND!
  • 141 min - Wait, where did those venetian blinds come from?
  • 142 min - There they are again! Did you use a different window for the exterior shots? Hmmmm?
  • 145 min - You know, that guy running down the street, screaming while on fire, sure looks familiar. Didn't I just see this same shot a minute ago?
  • 146 min - How did Crane and Helena get out of Houston? The world will never know.
  • 148 min - You know, that pilot with the visor over his eyes looks kind of familiar. I wonder if he saw a "black mass" about two and a half hours ago.
  • 151 min - Wait, the raging inferno is behind both of them? And beside them?


  • Slater calls for reinforcements: "Call Hastings Air Force Base. Have them scramble and track those bees!"
  • Crane: "Dr. Connors hasn't the foggiest idea whether I'm on, off, on top of, or under this complex. But I have to speak to him and I mean RIGHT NOW!"
    Slater: "Lock him up!"
  • Slater: "Now what happened here Captain?"
    Helena: "I'm sorry sir, you mean you don't know?"
    Slater: " - not exactly."
  • Paul hallucinating: "AHHHH! There's a big bee in here!"
  • Crane on the Bees: "We've been fighting a loosing battle with the insect world for fifteen years. I never thought I'd see the final face off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed it would be the bees. I mean, they've always been our friends!"
  • Krim: "I'm studying Tibetan levitation. In a few hundred years I expect to just float around."
  • Slater: "When that swarm finds out we have taken some of their friends captive, they just might come back to Marysville."
  • Slater: "Those damn poison pellets won't get us anywhere."
    Dr. Hubbard: "Those are my damn poison pellets and I think they'll work!"
  • Crane: "Oh, Walter!"
  • Baker: "Sir, can we trust a scientist that prays?"
    Slater: "I wouldn't trust one that didn't."
  • Mission Control: "To all tankers over the Gulf of Mexico: start spreading your oil. Four minutes to flaming."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note theswarm1.wav Slater: "Slater to Air Search One. Contact and identify outgoing object. Bearing 183 degrees, distance thirty miles, estimated speed seven miles per hour."
Green Music Note theswarm2.wav Crane: "So far nobody believes me and I have been placed in custody. General, every minute now is precious. We have been invaded by an enemy far more lethal than any human force."
Green Music Note theswarm3.wav Slater: "If you tell us what you're looking for, we'll try to help."
Crane: "I'm looking for bees, general."
Green Music Note theswarm4.wav Krim: "The autopsies confirm that the venom is deadlier than anything we've ever encountered. It appears there's enough poison in just four stings to kill the average person."
Green Music Note theswarm5.wav Slater and Crane argue about the bees.
Green Music Note theswarm6.wav Slater: "You see, the bees have formed almost a complete circle. Billions of them and that's what we've been waiting for."
Crane: "Waiting for what?"
Slater: "The battle plan is to get them all into one area and then zap 'em!"

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Cliptheswarm1.mpg - 2.9m
General Slater listens helplessly as his search helicopters are attacked by the giant swarm. Can you imagine that stuff like this goes on for almost three hours?

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