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An alarming addition to the epidemic thriller genre, The Satan Bug (1965) was based on a popular best seller by Ian Stuart, the nom de plume of novelist Alistair MacLean. It was also one of 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 '60s and early '70s. 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). Indeed, while it is hard to conceive of a film like Goldfinger (1964) without a major star in the lead role, The Satan Bug actually benefits from the lack of big name stars.
George Maharis, a product of the Actor's Studio, is an effectively laconic hero who uses his brain, not his fists, against a lunatic carrying a lethal virus. The Satan Bug is, in essence, a "thinking man's" spy thriller. However, as noble an effort as it was, The Satan Bug failed at the box office and remains largely underrated.
Aside from the source novel's author, the aforementioned Alistair MacLean, the screenwriters of The Satan Bug are worth noting. Edward Anhalt was a natural choice for The Satan Bug, since his original story for Panic in the Streets (1950) involved a potential outbreak of the deadly pneumonic plague. That story, co-written with his wife Edna, won the pair a joint Academy Award. While there are obvious plot differences between the two films, as well as the span of 15 years, the fears surrounding a life-threatening plague capable of wiping out the human race was lock-step in line with those surrounding nuclear war.
The other screenwriter that worked on The Satan Bug was James Clavell, who co-wrote John Sturges' The Great Escape (1963). Clavell is now better known as a best-selling novelist, with three of his novels, King Rat(1962), Tai Pan (1966), and Shogun (1975), having been adapted into films by others.
Director/Producer: John Sturges
Screenplay: Edward Anhalt, James Clavell, based on the novel by Ian Stuart
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Herman A. Blumenthal
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: George Maharis (Lee Barrett), Richard Basehart (Dr. Gregor Hoffman), Anne Francis (Ann Williams), Dana Andrews (Gen. Williams), John Larkin (Dr. Leonard Michaelson), Edward Asner (Veretti), Simon Oakland (Tasserly), John Anderson (Agent Regan), Richard Bull (Eric Cavanaugh).
by Scott McGee