The Satan Bug (1965)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/15/20
Director: John Sturges
Cast: George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Anne Francis, Dana Andrews, Ed Asner, cameos by James Doohan, Lee Remick

A deadly virus dubbed "The Satan Bug" has been developed at a top secret US military lab. It has the ability to wipe out all life on Earth in less than two months, and there's no antidote or vaccine, which makes the Pentagon extremely nervous. When it gets stolen by a psychotic egomaniac, the government calls on an unconventional and hot-headed security investigator named Lee Barrett (George Maharis) to help. He suspects it was an inside job, which creates a tense atmosphere of cat-and-mouse as Barrett tries to lure the bad guys into revealing their hand before the world falls victim to their threats and demands.

"The Satan Bug" is a solid thriller punctuated by strong performances and beautiful photography. George Maharis makes a strong and likable lead as a headstrong and world-weary guy who doesn't play by the book and is just as smart and cunning as his adversaries. The film is gorgeous and the cinematography is superb. The desert locales of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree are stunning, and the 1960's vibe of Los Angeles is delightful. Director John Sturges wanted to film an epic L.A. traffic jam for the film's climax, but the mayor wouldn't agree to it so he had to settle for an unconvincing matte painting instead. While the story is consistently engaging, there are several plot holes that make the narrative difficult to follow and several contrivances that are just a little too convenient to take seriously. Having a federal agent save the day because he decides to steal a beer sends an interesting message. But overall, it's definitely a good time for fans of 60's Cold War suspense films.