The Swarm, rated PG (for Pretty Grotty), is high schlock rot. Erstwhile producer Irwin Allen, whose contribution to civilization so far has included a rearview underwater shot of Shelley Winters’ party dress swooping up over her head in The Poseidon Adventure and the less endearing incendiary deaths of The Towering Inferno, has turned his coarse, Midas touch to directing. The highlights in his new movie are scenes of African killer bees stinging school-
children to death, lovingly photographed in slow motion; the images linger, lyrically, as those pretty babies writhe their way into our hearts. This vile, expensive thing, also notable for its obscenely bad acting, towers above anything else in recent memory.
Drawn to a military base in Texas where it kills nearly everything in sight, the swarm, having wreaked havoc on the small town of Marysville, heads for Houston. Scientists Michael Caine, Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain, called in to swat it, find themselves battling the paranoid military (Richard Widmark and Bradford Dillman) as well. But since the prospect of buzzing killers laying waste the Southwest is remote and doesn’t play on any immediate fears, a plot with more holes than a honeycomb has been further perforated with cheap effect: wreckage, explosions, people in flames, screaming. Carnage completed, Allen follows it with 10-gallon tears.
High moral seriousness aside, there’s the violently vapid romantic conception which, given the asexuality of the alliances, is an unfortunate choice of the noun. Cooing at one another are Caine and the good doctor Katherine Ross who, if she ever loses her bland good looks, will be truly impoverished. But the most gruesome, gratuitous performance of the year is delivered by Olivia De Havilland, taken out of mothballs for the occasion to play a schoolteacher courted by Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray. Incredible as it might seem, Miz De Havilland has elected to replay the role of Melanie from Gone With the Wind, Southern accent and all, flashing her wimpy smile.
Others who have little reason to show their faces in public again are Lee Grant, Patty Duke (just before she’s about to board the train evacuating Marysville she has to be rushed back to the hospital to have her baby) and the male contingent,
irising to new heights of mediocrity. To say that The Swarm doesn’t much value human life by prolonging pain for our delectation is not entirely true, there being no
actual evidence of human life in the script. And Irwin fiddles while Houston burns. LAWRENCE O’TOOLE
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