Sunday, January 31, 2016

Worst Movie Ever? "The Swarm" Is In The Discussion

I noticed that TCM was showing this 1978 movie, "The Swarm", in the wee small hours of the morning one day last week so I set the DVR for it.  I had never seen it and was unfamiliar with it, but what drew me toward it was the fact that Katherine Ross was one of the co-stars.  Having just seen her in "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", I wanted to see her in this one.

"The Swarm" was a 1970's era "disaster movie" produced and directed by the master of the genre, Irwin Allen.  Well, it certainly was a disaster!  It may have actually been the death knell for these types of movies. It had the proverbial all-star cast, and the description of the movie in the TCM program guide should have been the tip-off to what was to come: "A scientist and a military doctor try to save the city of Houston from a swarm of killer bees."  I'm not making that up.

Well, I started watching it, and it was worse than watching a traffic accident - although the movie did indeed have several car wrecks AND a train wreck.   The acting was so bad that it reminded me of those sketches that Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman used to do when they were actually trying to be bad.  And the dialog, was absolutely indescribable.  Here a couple of examples:

Brad Crane (played by Michael Caine): We've been fighting a losing battle against the insects for fifteen years, but I never thought I'd see the final face-off in my lifetime. And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They've always been our friend.

Or this one:

Brad Crane: These bees, General, are of joint concern, and they are killing Americans, without reference as to whether or not they have a serial number and are expected to salute YOU! So there will be no air drops of any kind until I give the OK! 
General Slater (played by Richard Widmark): Your OK, huh? Then just possible I can persuade you to attack this particular swarm, now that we know where it is! Attack and eliminate it! 
Brad Crane: Possibly, if you can explain to me, how you air drop chemicals, without killing the native insect life! If your chemical will kill the African bee, it will also kill the American bee, right? 
General Slater: Right! And better a few American bees than a lot of AMERICAN PEOPLE! 
Brad Crane: That is the point, general! The honey bee is vital to the environment! Every year in America, they pollinate six billion dollars worth of crops! If you kill the bee, you're gonna kill the crop! If you kill the plants, you'll kill the people! No! No, general! There will be no air drop, until we know exactly, what we are dropping, and where, and how! Excuse me! 
[Crane storms off]

And here's one more....

Dr. Andrews (Jose Ferrar): Billions of dollars have been spent to make these nuclear plants safe. Fail-safe! The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical, Doctor! 
Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain): I appreciate that, Doctor. But let me ask you. In all your fail-safe techniques, is there a provision for an attack by killer bees?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea, and the entire script is just full of passages like this from start to finish.  The screenplay, by the way was written by Stirling Silliphant, a highly regarded writer who won an Oscar for his screenplay of "In the Heat of the Night".  One review I read said that it seemed that Silliphant must have been writing it like this on purpose for some reason or another, but, hey, art is one thing, but a payday is a payday.

And how about that All-Star Cast?  Here are some of the names:  Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Patty Duke, Fred MacMurray.  By my count, there are six Oscars scattered on the mantelpieces among these various actors, but they were in this one for the money only, that's for sure.  Another review that I read said that Caine was "so obviously contemptuous of the material that he refused to change his expression" for the entire movie.  I honestly don't know how Caine, Ross, and Widmark kept straight faces while acting in this one.  I guess that's what makes them good actors.

I once read an article by the late Pittsburgh Post-Gazette movie critic George Anderson where he interviewed Michael Caine and started a question with "You've made an awful lot of movies..." whereupon Caine interrupted him and laughingly said "I think you mean to say that 'You've made a lot of awful movies'."  Good line, and while Caine is a terrific actor (two Oscars), he's also famous for taking anything ("Jaws 3" being the example always cited) that will get him a paycheck.  "The Swarm" has to be Exhibit A for these peculiar, but no doubt enriching, career choices.

Some movies fall into the "so-bad-it's-good" category and become Camp Classics, but this one goes beyond that.  In his Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin rates this as a BOMB, and says it's "for masochists only."  That about sums it up.

If you ever want to see an example of a really, really BAD movie, you can check this one out, but don't say that I didn't warn you.

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