Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Satan Bug (1965) - John Sturges

I love a good cold war conspiracy style thriller, especially when there’s a chance that whole populations could be wiped out due to some evil genius. The 60s was full of these sort of things particularly after the ’62 Cuba missile crisis and the rise of a certain Mr. Bond. So with all that in mind I thought The Satan Bug would be right up my street. It is after all the film John Sturges decided to make straight after The Great Escape, which is a film that I have watched at least once a year or so for as long as I can remember. So it couldn’t be bad could it?

Well surprisingly for a film that would describe itself as a thriller it lacks quite a bit in the thrills department. In fact I’d go one further and say it was actually dull. A bit on the boring side. It has it’s moments, but could have done with being trimmed a little to bring the running time down to a lean 90 minutes, rather than the flabby two hours it is now. The thing is there’s a good film in there but for some reason it just didn’t find its way onto the screen.

The plot is quite simple, a deadly man made virus (The Satan Bug) is stolen from a secret American military base and our hero Lee Barrett (George Maharis) has to figure out the who, the why and the how and get the germ weapon back before it is used to wipe out the entire planet! Will he manage it? Will he figure everything out? Of course he will since this is from the time before that golden Hollywood era of downbeat endings, Vietnam hadn’t really hit Americans as a huge catastrophe yet and Nixon was still a few years off of souring Americans on politics forever. So why doesn’t it work then?

Well for starters there is a really uncomfortable mix between really drab sets, all muted colours and no set dressing and the gorgeous location footage from the Californian deserts. Which clashes like an episode of Columbo and a John Ford western. The acting matches the sets, drab and by the numbers, the lines are spoken but they never convinced me they were being uttered by humans. Worse than that though is the total lack of any sort of tension. It’s explained to us just how deadly this virus is, but at no point does it ever feel like anything other than a clear liquid in a bottle. People bark orders to each other down phones, cars tail other cars, heads are scratched and questions answered but it all just feels so pedestrian. It’s also a fairly confusing plot, with characters previously thought dead turning out to be not quite ready to be buried, and then there’s a 'Clay Shaw is Clay Bertrand' bit of subterfuge that makes you feel like you might have to rewatch the film again from the start, just to see if you could spot what was coming. Except like I said earlier it’s far too dull for that.

Which is odd since Sturges is one of the great journeyman directors of this period, he made good solid E X C I T I N G films. It’s like his heart just wasn’t in this. Which is a shame. The Jerry Goldsmith score is a gem though, sounding like a precursor to his Planet of the Apes score but with added synth blasts. It’s almost watching the film for this alone. Almost.

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