The Satan Bug (1965)

Director: John Sturges
Starring: George Maharis, John Andersen, Martin Blaine, Henry Beckman, Richard Basehart, Dana Andrews, Anne Francis
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Based on the novel by Ian Stewart (a pseudonym for Alistair MacLean)

Film director John Sturges has an amazing track record. Particularly during the sixties when he made some of his most famous films, like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Ice Station Zebra. The Satan Bug is one of his films that tends to slip under the radar. Which possibly says more about how good his other films are, rather than a reflection on the quality of The Satan Bug. In fact, The Satan Bug is a really good thriller in the Hitchcock tradition. What probably stopped it from being a massive success is the lack of a big name star in the cast.

The film opens at a top-secret chemical warfare compound called Station 3. It’s late on a Friday afternoon and a green delivery truck drops off two crates of new laboratory equipment. The crates are shunted into one of the underground labs.

Meanwhile a helicopter lands at the facility, and out hops Reagan (John Andersen). Reagan is the chief of security at the centre and he performs a sweep of the area. Unbeknownst to him, hiding in the crates are two terrorists, who are after the chemical weapons that are stored at Station 3. The assailants kill Reagan and make off with an amount of deadly toxin.

Enjoying himself at a swinging jazz club is Lee Barrett (George Maharis). During the show he receives a phone call, and he heads back to his home, which happens to be on a boat moored in a marina. Waiting for him is Mr. Martin (Martin Blaine). Martin says he works for the Council for World Peace, and he has acquired a flask of vaccine for Bochalitus (a deadly virus). Martin wants Barrett to take the flask to Europe. If both sides have the vaccine, then the weapon will be useless. Barrett is offered $20,000 to do the job.

But before we go any further, why Barrett? It appears that Barrett used to be a top flight intelligence officer, but his outspoken views on world peace have got him into a lot of trouble. Along with his insubordinate nature. Outwardly It would appear that Barrett is just the man for the job. But not so. Barrett maybe outspoken about war, but he is not a traitor to his country. Which is good, because Martin is a fake, and the whole scene on the boat has been a test of Barrett’s loyalty. And he has passed with flying colours. But the theft from Station 3 is quite real, and Barrett’s skills are required in tracking down the perpetrators and retrieve the chemical weapons.

And to the title of the film. What is the Satan Bug? It is a new toxin that when it is released into the atmosphere will kill all living things on the planet. And from Station 3, the two flasks of the deadly virus in existence have been stolen.

Soon after the virus is stolen a telegram arrives with an ominous message:

“Mankind must abolish war.
Or war will abolish mankind.
I have what you are looking for.
Order your citadel of the Anti-Christ destroyed.
The President will immediately announce compliance.
To prove that I am to be obeyed, there will be an incident.”

The incident takes place in Florida, and a large portion of the community is wiped out. Dead bodies litter the streets. The terrorists ring once more. This time, they threaten to release the virus in Los Angeles. From then on it is a deadly race against time to track down the terrorist and find where they have hidden the flask of deadly toxin.

As I mentioned earlier, the film does not feature any big name stars, but the ensemble of character actors do a top rate job. Apart from George Maharis as Barrett, the film features Anne Francis as Ann, Edward Asner as Veretti, Richard Basehart as Hoffman, Dana Andrews as General Williams, and Richard Bull as Cavanaugh.

The music for The Satan Bug is by Jerry Goldsmith, and it will come as no surprise that it is really very good. It is tense, ominous and extremely atmospheric. Not quite as jazzy and melodic as some of his scores (like Our Man Flint), but none-the-less it works very well and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The Satan Bug is an excellent spy thriller. It is such a pity that it is not more readily available or widely known.

As far as I am aware, The Satan Bug is not available on DVD. However VHS copies are still available from various sources on the internet.

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