March 21, 2006
The Satan Bug (1965)
Grade: 46/100

Director: John Sturges
Stars: George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Anne Francis

What it's about. A radical millionaire seizes flasks bearing the plague from a secret government research post. If he isn't stopped, or his impossible demands aren't met, he will unleash the Satan Bug on an unprepared (if not innocent) world. Action man George Maharis to the rescue.

How others will see it. Those who enjoy Tom Clancy thrillers should appreciate this interesting if far-fetched suspense drama. It's a Bond movie of sorts, although the budget is much lower, and romance and style is shed in favor of a more intellectual script and story.

How I felt about it. Our hero is a Dragnet-like straight-laced detective who turns on the self-righteous intensity whenever he outsmarts the villain or his allies. These include Edward Asner, who looks almost young, and in this movie is as friendly as a hungry grizzly bear.

Proof that the budget exceeded $10,000 is confirmed by the use of a couple of helicopters, one of which goes into a recoverable death spiral for a few long shots. A baseball stadium also required rental, which no doubt had the Mirisch Corporation executives reduced to eating at McDonalds until the film came out.

James Clavell of eventual Shogun fame is a co-screenwriter, and ubiquitous Jerry Goldsmith provided the score. John Sturges, better known for action epics The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, sits in the director's chair.

As in any good whodunit, you might be surprised to learn which character is the arch-villain Ainsley. Hint: it's not our incorruptible and tightly-wound hero Maharis, who for some reason is enlisted by the Feds despite his failed law practice and inability to hold a job.

Maharis is aided in his cause by a beautiful blonde (Anne Francis) who clearly wants to bear his children, although Maharis will have none of it since he's instead intent on saving the world, a task for which (in this film) he is uniquely capable. His mid-level intensity rarely boils over, except when verbally berating an opponent once he gets the drop on him.

Maharis does care for his Girl Friday, since in his farsighted actions he keeps her out of his most difficult situations. Again, though, it may be chivalry rather than love motivating his concern for her continued existence.

On a fashion note, The Satan Bug was apparently Hollywood's last stand for the hat industry. Maharis never wears a hat, but he's an exception.

The Satan Bug has no shortage of suspense or action. What it lacks are compelling, complex characters. Life as we know it is at stake. Even so, we do not shudder when a vial of biotoxins is juggled. All that is really threatened is the existence of an uptight and humorless cast.