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The Satan Bug
Directed by John Sturges
Produced by John Sturges
Written by Alistair MacLean
James Clavell
Edward Anhalt
Starring George Maharis
Richard Basehart
Anne Francis
Dana Andrews
Edward Asner
Frank Sutton
John Anderson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) April 14, 1965
Running time 114 min
Language English

The Satan Bug (1965) is a science fiction film in which a US government germ warfare lab has had an accident. The first theory is that one of the germs has been released and killed several scientists. The big fear is that a more virulent strain, named The Satan Bug because all life can be killed off by it should it escape, may have been stolen. The film was loosely adapted from Alistair MacLean's 1962 novel The Satan Bug.


Plot summary

Lee Barrett, a former intelligence agent, is asked by his former boss Eric Cavanaugh to investigate the murder of the security chief of Station Three -- a top secret bioweapons laboratory in the California desert -- and the disappearance of its director, Dr. Baxter. As they wait for the time lock on the sealed lab to open, they are advised by another lab scientist, Dr. Gregor Hoffman, to seal the lab using concrete. He informs them that there are two lethal bioweapons in the lab, a lethal strain of botulinus that oxidizes eight hours after its release, and a recently developed virus he calls "the Satan Bug" which could kill all life on Earth in a matter of months. Determined to discover what happened in the room, Barrett enters to discover Dr. Baxter dead and both the vial containing the Satan Bug and 1200 grams of botulinus missing.

Barrett drives to a nearby hotel where he meets Ann, the daughter of General Williams, who has flown in from Washington to supervise the investigation. He confirms Barrett's speculation that a lunatic is behind the theft and shows a telegram threatening to release the viruses unless Station Three is destroyed. Suspecting that the theft was aided by someone on the inside, Bennett soon discovers another scientist dead at his home. A phone call reveals the name Charles Reynolds Ainsley, a millionaire crackpot who fits the profile and who quickly becomes the focus of the investigation. After a demonstration incident in Florida proves the thieves' willingness to use the botulinus, General Williams receives a call threatening to release additional toxin in Los Angeles unless Station Three is closed.

Pursuing a report, Barrett and Ann visit the location where a car broke down during the evening of the theft. Barrett deduces that the driver was involved in the theft and locates a box containing the missing vials in a nearby stream, only to be confronted by two armed men who were involved in the theft. Barrett and Ann are taken to a home where they meet Dr. Hoffman -- the other conspirator in the theft. Hoffman decides to take the two as hostages, but they are followed by security agents. Hoffman takes a flask containing the Satan Bug and separates from the others, who realize they are being shadowed by two agents in a car. After a confrontation in an abandoned gas station, the thugs working with Hoffman lock Barrett and the two agents in a room and shatters one of the vials. Though both agents are killed, Barrett escapes by setting the room afire. He stops a passing car being driven by Hoffman and makes a deal to learn the location of the flask in Los Angeles in return for the closure of Station Three.

As they drive, Barrett tells Hoffman that he is aware that Hoffman is, in fact, Ainsley himself. They hear a radio announcement announcing the closure of Station Three. Hoffman's associates are killed at a roadblock while trying to escape. While Barrett himself confronts Ainsley, who threatens to break the flask containing the Satan Bug, telling Barrett that he waited to steal the virus until the vaccine could be isolated. Now that vaccine is in his blood. He's immune. And he's willing to destroy the world and live on in it alone rather than give up the power he holds. A helicopter arrives, flown by another of Ainsley's men, who fly them over Los Angeles as it is being evacuated, Barrett fights with the pilot and succeeds in taking the vial from Ainsley, who falls from the helicopter rather than reveal the location of the missing vial, unaware that the vial had already been located and disarmed by the authorities.



The movie was among the first espionage films to follow the lead of the wildly popular James Bond films that set the tone for action/adventure films of the 1960s and early 1970s. In contrast with the Bond spy thrillers, however, The Satan Bug was a serious attempt by director John Sturges to go in a different direction from his previous all-star blockbusters (The Magnificent Seven, 1960, and The Great Escape, 1963). Maharis, star of television's Route 66 and a product of The Actors' Studio, is an effectively laconic hero who uses his brain, not his fists. The Satan Bug is more of a "thinking man's" spy thriller than an action-packed one. It failed at the box office and remains less well known than other genre films from the era.

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