And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
THE BEES (1978)
"You have to listen! You have to
listen to what
Director: Alfredo Zacharias
Starring: John Saxon, Angel Tompkins, John Carradine, George Bellanger, Claudio Brook
Screenplay: Alfredo Zacharias
Synopsis: In Brazil, Dr Franklyn Miller (Claudio Brook) and his wife, Sandra (Angel Tompkins), run the UNESCO Agricultural Experimental Station, where they are conducting research into an aggressive new strain of bee. Believing that the experimental bees have an increased honey producing capacity, a local man and his son break into the facility to steal some, but are stung to death. The next day, as Miller is telling Sandra his fear that someone in the US has been skimming off money meant for their project, angry villagers storm the facility. Miller manages to placate them by explaining that he and his wife are trying to find a way of making the bees less of a danger. However, when another native child is found dead, the villagers wreck the research station. Miller saves Sandra by locking her into a storage room, but when he goes back for his research notes he is overpowered by a villager who tears off his protective veil, allowing him to be stung to death. In New York, bee experts Dr John Norman (John Saxon) and Dr Sigmund Hummel (John Carradine) appeal to the United Nations for research funding to fight the threat of the killer bees. However, when the delegates do nothing but bicker amongst themselves, Hummel breaks up the meeting by releasing a few of the insects in question. Sandra Miller returns to New York. On her way to John Normans apartment, Sandra is mugged, but her attackers soon discover that her locked carry case contains not jewelry, but a colony of bees . Sandra makes it to Normans apartment, assuring him that the queen bees are safe. Norman insists that she stay there for the night. Dr Hummel, who is Sandras uncle, joins the pair next morning. The three of them discuss their plan to found their own colony of bees, to which end Sandra has smuggled the bees into the country, thus by-passing time-consuming red tape. The three meet with a consortium of businessman, and are appalled when they are told that the consortium intends using the bees to increase production immediately, rather than waiting for a less virulent strain to be bred. When the researchers refuse to have anything to do with the project, the businessmen warn them that they have other ways of getting what they want . After inspecting Normans research facility, Sandra tells him about a fatality on a plane: a man was stung to death while trying to smuggle the killer bees into the States. Meanwhile, swarms of the deadly insects descend upon California .
Comments: Of all the bee movies that plagued audiences during the seventies, the worst was undoubtedly The Swarm, Irwin Allens monstrously stupid insect disaster movie. The best of them (I watch too many movies can you tell?) was probably the made-for-TV The Savage Bees, in which the titular bugs kick butt in New Orleans before meeting a sticky end in the Superdome. And somewhere between these two extremes comes The Bees, where exactly being a matter of personal taste. There are some people out there who claim that The Bees is just as bad as The Swarm. I choose to mount a strenuous defence against this accusation on the following grounds: (i) The Bees is 33 minutes shorter than the standard cut of The Swarm, and a whopping 73 minutes shorter than the - God help us! - "extended cut"; (ii) most of its humour is intentional; (iii) it stars John Carradine at his absolute hammiest (as opposed to Michael Caine at his); (iv) how can you not love a film that casts "John Saxon" as "John Norman"?
Now, none of this is to say that The Bees is a good film. Indeed, the warning signs to the contrary are there right from the very first scene, which features [ominous chord] stock footage; which, as we all know, ranks just behind nudity and showing the monster in the "dead giveaway" stakes. "Showing the monster" in fact follows hard on the heels of "stock footage", as a criminally inclined local and his son become the first of many, many people to cry, "AAAHHH!!! AAAHHH!!!" and flap their arms madly, a sure sign of the presence of "killer bees". We are then introduced to the Millers, who own the bees in question. The state of their marriage would seem to be questionable, as Sandra Miller makes her grand entrance by trailing downstairs in a flimsy negligee and grousing, "Franklyn, when are you coming to bed?" Franklyn Miller is obviously one of those dedicated scientists whose work comes before everything else. He is also, naturally, absent-minded - or so we judge from Sandras tendency to remind her husband of his name at the start of every sentence ("Franklyn, come on!" "Franklyn, your veil!"). A scientist working with killer bees who needs to be reminded to wear his protective gear is clearly not long for this world, but Franklyn doesnt meet his fate until a group of disgruntled villagers (complete with flaming torches!) storms the research facility. Ignoring his wife ("Franklyn, dont go out there!"), Dr Miller shows himself a natural leader of men by speaking to the villagers in their own language - that is, Pidgin English plus a really embarrassing put-on accent - and not unreasonably points out that the bees were there before he was, and that hes trying to get rid of them. However, another villager turns up with a dead child slung over his shoulder and announces, "Devil bees killed my son! You killed my son!"
Swayed by this unanswerable piece of illogic, the villagers get to work, setting fire to the facility, and very cleverly getting themselves stung to death in the process. Franklyn gets Sandra to safety, but when he goes back for his books, he is overpowered and stripped of his protective gear, and the bees polish him off under the horrified eyes of his wife who, for the very last time, wails, "Franklyn!!" The action then moves to New York, where experts Dr Norman and Dr Hummel apply to the United Nations for funding that will help them combat the killer bee problem. In a piece of graphic realism, the delegates all want the work done, but none of them wants to foot the bill for it.
Unbeknownst to the UN, Norman and Hummel have taken other steps to fight the killer bees by arranging for Sandra to smuggle a small colony into the country. However, on her way up to Normans apartment, she rather foolishly gets into an elevator with two characters who give new meaning to the expression "loitering with intent". The muggers get a bit more than they expected when they become the bees first American victims, upping the ante by not only screaming, "AAAHHH!!!" and flapping their arms madly, but also plunging through a conveniently situated plate-glass window. Bloodied but unbowed, Sandra delivers the queen bees to Norman, who insists she stay at his apartment.
The next morning, Hummel who is Sandras "Uncle Ziggy" finds her there, and scolds her for not observing a decent period of mourning. Sandra reacts indignantly, but Uncle Ziggys remarks prove only slightly premature, as it is not much longer before Sandra is succumbing to what is evidently an uncontrollable passion for entomologists. While inspecting Normans bee facility, she allows herself to indulge in a little science-laced flirtation before revealing an ominous piece of news: a plane nearly crashed in Mexico when some bees got loose on board . These bees (which seem to multiply at a rate substantially beyond the merely exponential) descend upon California (heh!) and start showing mankind whos boss. Their first action is put into effect a "No Fat Chicks" ordinance, killing off a girl who has the temerity to be (a) slightly overweight; and (b) wearing a swimming costume. Then, showing great respect for the cliches, they take out a couple foolishly necking in an open car (and who, rather strangely, appear to be parked on the beach!).
Much more mayhem follows, and the body count rises most of this accompanied by cheerful, calliope-style music more suitable to a silent comedy than an alleged tragedy. The bees invade a town populated by small boys with vocabularies suggesting that Trey Parker and Matt Stone may have been underestimating things. One of them chooses to throw a baseball at a huge hive of bees, and thus wipes out his entire hometown. Things then get really serious when [stock footage alert!] the bees invade the Rose Bowl Parade, even gasp! threatening the life of Gerald Ford (who, hilariously, is seen riding in a car labelled "Gerald Ford" obviously being in some doubt about the perspicacity of His Fellow Americans).
Meanwhile, it is revealed that the cause of all this trouble (to the surprise of absolutely no-one whos ever seen a seventies ecological disaster movie) is an Evil Corrupt Politician, whos in cahoots with some Evil Corrupt Businessmen. Since the Evil Corrupt Politician in question is the Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture, he must seem to be taking action. He therefore decides to fund the work of Hummel and Norman, who are trying to control the bees using something they insist on calling a "pherone". Norman and Sandra try it out on a hive of bees, and clearly, somethings working, because shortly after spraying it around the two are snogging in Normans car. The "pherone" project is put into full effect all over America, and initially seems completely successful.
Meanwhile, Hummel has discovered that someone in the Dept. of Ag. was skimming funds from Franklyn Millers project. Unfortunately, he chooses to confide this to Undersecretary Brennan who, being an Evil Corrupt Politician, was naturally the one responsible. Brennan decides that Hummel, Norman and Sandra all Know Too Much, and puts out a contract on them. (Alarmingly, it turns out that Brennan has the telephone number of the local crime boss committed to memory!) Brennan insists he wants "the best people", and if what we see are it, Id say the Washington cops have very little to worry about. One of the two bumbling gunmen does manage to take out poor Ziggy, but the next instant the bees strike back! ("AAAHHH!!!" Flap, flap! Crash!!) Norman and Sandra stumble over the body of Hitman #1 before Hitman #2 foolishly allows Norman to get the drop on him (and John Saxon to relive his glory days), and all-out chop-socky breaks loose! The two men struggle until Hitman #2 comes to a gruesome end when Norman pushes a box of bees against his face (we get the ""AAHHH!!!" but the circumstances dont really allow for Flap! Crash!)
Larger events intercede when it becomes clear that a new strain of bee, immune to the "pherone", has developed. Ziggy, it turns out, was trying to find a way of communicating with the insects; and Norman and Sandra take over his work as, across the country, huge swarms of bees cause [stock footage alert!] plane crash after plane crash (including the one in Flying High!). Meanwhile, the Evil Corrupt Politician Gets Whats Coming To Him when the bees invade his office and drive him through the window (watch closely, and youll see one of the comic highlights of the whole film: the way the "terrified" and "hysterical" Brennan looks over his left shoulder to carefully line himself up with the window before plunging to his "death"!). Norman and Sandra, after an exhausting day spent trying to talk to the bees, retire to bed. However, their midnight snuggling is somewhat rudely interrupted when a flick of the light switch reveals that their entire bedroom is covered in bees! (This is a great shot, really, but it is spoilt somewhat by the pan across John Normans bedside bookcase, which reveals titles including "How Does It Work?" and "Jack And Janet".)
The two obediently return to the lab, where they solemnly explain to the bees that they are trying to find a way of communicating with them, but being dumb ol humans and all, it aint easy. They promise to keep on trying, and evidently they succeed. The next thing we know, John Norman is addressing the UN, and breaking the not-so-welcome news that the bees are in charge now, and there isnt much the human race can do about it. The bees, being fair-minded insects, are prepared to share the Earth, but if we dont like their terms, well, goodbye Homo sapiens. The UN delegates express a certain amount of incredulity at this announcement, but when they try to have Norman removed from the premises, the bees invade the room and stage a peaceful sit-in until their terms are met. Norman reiterates that we dont have much choice in the matter and----well, thats pretty much it. Apparently, mankind simply welcomes its new insect overlords; and we are left with the comforting reflection that, after all, these kinder, gentler bees will do a much better job of running Planet Earth than the scuzzy old human race .
Ah, the seventies! Dont you miss them? When every Undersecretary in Washington had a hitman in his Rolodex; when the greatest threat to civilisation was Evil Businessmen who wore really wide ties, smoked cigars, and were called "Irving"; when the Good Guys were protected by Mysterious Forces Of Nature (such as those that here decree that the bees released when Sandra is mugged are never heard of again, while those released by the Evil Corrupt Politicians henchman multiply a trillion-fold and take over California); and when any second, an exploited species of plant or animal could be counted upon to rise up and cast off the shackles of its human oppressors.
But dumb as most of these films were, their message wasnt entirely without merit. The interesting thing, I think, is how much easier that message was to swallow when it was part of a fun little movie like The Bees or Frogs, rather than being served up in indigestible gelatinous lumps in the likes of The Swarm or Prophecy. And this film is fun! John Saxon proves yet again that he is the unsung king of the Bs (scuse me!) by delivering page after page of screamingly funny dialogue without losing his composure. Angel Tompkins is nobodys idea of a great actress, but she has a lot of fun in this one, and her naturally bubbly personality is probably more of an asset than talent would have been. (Both Saxon and Tompkins deserve some recognition for the amount of screentime they spend with bees crawling all over them not "killer bees", admittedly, but still .) As for John Carradine - ! Well! If you ever wanted to hear him spouting idiotic lines in a "German" accent that would have been hooted off the set of "Hogans Heroes", this is your chance!
The other "highlight" of the film comes courtesy of George Bellanger, whose hilariously awful performance as the Evil Corrupt Politician provides a great many of the films laughs. For a while there, it looked like Aldredo Zacharias was really going to leave a mark in the world of the B-Film (scuse me!) - for one thing, he managed to "pull a Corman" and get his quickie rip-off into cinemas before The Swarm was released - but after The Bees, his career went downhill (whoa - now theres a scary thought!). Still, here he gives us a film silly and entertaining and intentionally funny (unlike his follow-up project, Macabra) enough to keep his name alive. So if you get the chance, settle in with a drink and some popcorn and have a really good time with The Bees. As bad as The Swarm, indeed!
Footnote: If theres anyone out there who hasnt already done so, you really should scoot over to Jabootus Bad Movie Dimension and check out Ken Beggs review of The Swarm.Its a masterly piece of work, truly! - even if he does suggest that The Bees is as bad as The Swarm....Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB
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