Anne Francis in The Satan Bug (1965)

Like many film fans, I was disappointed to learn that Anne Francis had passed away on January 2 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 80 years old at the time and is fondly remembered for her roles in movies like Susan Slept Here (Frank Tashlin; 1954), Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks; 1955), Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges; 1955) and the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox; 1956). She also appeared in many popular television shows including The Twilight Zone (1960-63), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963-65) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). And won an Emmy for her starring role in Honey West (1965-66).

The beautiful and athletic actress always seemed to have a sparkle in her eye and the tiny mole that accented her winning smile gave her a distinct look that was hard to forget. She wasn’t your typical blond bombshell. Anne Francis was a brainy and tough broad who could obviously take care of herself and I admired her apparent confidence as well as her sense of humor.

Two of the best movies that she appeared in were directed by John Sturges. I’ve always thought of Sturges as an undervalued director. His films have a masculine aesthetic that isn’t particularly female friendly but they work on multiple levels. In both of the Sturges films that Anne Francis appeared in she’s the only female member of the cast. A lesser actress could have easily crumbled under the weight of that pressure but Francis holds her own against formidable actors like Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin in Sturges’ iconic western BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. And in the director’s science fiction thriller THE SATAN BUG (1965) Francis is the lone female spy in a cast that includes George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Dana Andrews and Ed Asner.

I decided to revisit THE SATAN BUG after learning that Anne Francis had passed away and I was reminded of what a remarkable and exciting film it was. It’s often considered one of Sturges’ lesser movies and dismissed as a second-rate attempt to cash in on the popular James Bond franchise but I think those criticisms are shortsighted. The film begins with a break-in at a secret government lab known as Station Three. Station Three is hidden deep in the California desert where scientists have created a bio-weapon called the Satan Bug that can wipe out the entire population of earth in a matter of months. A quick thinking intelligence agent (George Maharis) is asked to come out of his self-imposed retirement to help with the investigation. He soon discovers that a madman has stolen the deadly virus and plans to unleash it on the unsuspecting populace unless the government agrees to shut down Station Three. This leads him on an action-packed chase across the desert that ends with a spectacular helicopter ride over Los Angeles.

THE SATAN BUG is noteworthy for the way its hero (George Maharis) uses his brains instead of his brawn to save the day. The film also features some striking Palm Springs locations and desert photography shot by the Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Surtees as well as a wonderful soundtrack by composer Jerry Goldsmith. One of the things that separates John Sturges’ adventure films from so many others is the wonderful way that the director and his editors used music to frame the action and drama. THE SATAN BUG is no exception and the movie greatly benefits from Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which enhances the film’s suspenseful plot. The movie is loosely based on a novel by Alistair MacLean and it was adopted for the screen by author James Clavell along with Edward Anhalt. John Sturges also directed a film version of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra, which would make for a terrific double feature with THE SATAN BUG. Both films helped pave the way for modern action thrillers like the popular Bourne series and their influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

Anne Francis isn’t given a lot to do in THE SATAN BUG but the film is noteworthy for providing the actress with a mature role as a female spy who also happens to be the hero’s love interest. Like many of Sturges’ most popular films, romance takes a backseat to the action but I appreciate the movies no nonsense approach to adult relationships. Who has time for romance when you’re trying to save the world? Unlike so many modern thrillers that come to an abrupt halt in order to include a sex scene or erotic interlude, THE SATAN BUG stays focused on the action and drama generated by the taut story it’s telling. John Sturges knew how to sustain suspense and the film maintains a high level of tension throughout its 114-minute running time.

After making THE SATAN BUG, Anne Francis went on to star in the action packed television series Honey West where she played a smart detective who used her brains, sex appeal and muscle in order to rid the world of criminals. Her character in Honey West resembled Emma Peel in the popular British series The Avengers (1961-69). Both characters are now considered to be 60s’ feminist icons because they represented strong, independent women that could obviously take care of themselves. Anne Francis’ role in THE SATAN BUG is a kinder and gentler predecessor to the judo chopping character she would later play in Honey West.

THE SATAN BUG is currently only available on video but Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM plan to release it on DVD next month as part of their “manufacturing on demand” program with various online retailers. The DVD probably won’t be available for rent or in stores but if you’re an Anne Francis fan or appreciate John Sturges’ films I highly recommend seeking it out.

19 Responses Anne Francis in The Satan Bug (1965)
Posted By Susan : January 13, 2011 4:49 pm

I was always a fan of Ms Francis, my mother just loved her. She was so beautiful. I remember my mother, who was a movie fan aficianado, saying that Streisand was jealouse of her looks & as a result, her role was cut to practically nothing in Funny Girl…anyone else hear this story? just curious. May she rest in peace.

Posted By Susan : January 13, 2011 4:49 pm

I was always a fan of Ms Francis, my mother just loved her. She was so beautiful. I remember my mother, who was a movie fan aficianado, saying that Streisand was jealouse of her looks & as a result, her role was cut to practically nothing in Funny Girl…anyone else hear this story? just curious. May she rest in peace.

Posted By Vinnie Bartilucci : January 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Single (accidentally) funniest scene in the film – George Maharis spends like five minutes explaining that when he comes out of the vault, if he still has the visor of his suit down, it means the virus is loose, he’s infected, and they should just open to door an crack and shoot him. Makes SURE everybody’s got it.

He comes out…visor down. Guard pulls out his gun, Maharis hastily makes “Nononono” gestures and opens the visor. Whew!

Not the best virus on the loose movie (It’s a fight between The Stand and Andromeda Strain, depending on whether you prefer Sci-Fi or horror) but not the worst. Anne Francis was a delight, and we will all miss her.

Posted By Vinnie Bartilucci : January 13, 2011 5:04 pm

Single (accidentally) funniest scene in the film – George Maharis spends like five minutes explaining that when he comes out of the vault, if he still has the visor of his suit down, it means the virus is loose, he’s infected, and they should just open to door an crack and shoot him. Makes SURE everybody’s got it.

He comes out…visor down. Guard pulls out his gun, Maharis hastily makes “Nononono” gestures and opens the visor. Whew!

Not the best virus on the loose movie (It’s a fight between The Stand and Andromeda Strain, depending on whether you prefer Sci-Fi or horror) but not the worst. Anne Francis was a delight, and we will all miss her.

Posted By dukeroberts : January 13, 2011 9:41 pm

What a bummer that it is not available to rent. I love Bad Day at Black Rock and Forbidden Planet. I would love to see her in The Satan Bug.

Posted By dukeroberts : January 13, 2011 9:41 pm

What a bummer that it is not available to rent. I love Bad Day at Black Rock and Forbidden Planet. I would love to see her in The Satan Bug.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 14, 2011 2:47 pm

Susan – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Susan. As far as I know it was director William Wyler that made the final cuts on FUNNY GIRL mainly because the film was just too long and he wanted the story to focus on Streisand’s character. There seems to have been a lot of confusion over the situation over the years and Anne Francis published an open letter that she wrote to Streisand about the topic that you can read on her website: http://www.annefrancis.net/02_news/0202_ltr.html

Vinnie – I prefer this to THE STAND. King’s book is interesting but I didn’t care for the film version. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN on the other hand is a great movie too! THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN is much slower paced though and the focus is very different. It would be fun to watch both films back to back.

Dukeroberts – I have to agree with you. While I appreciate that companies like Warner and MGM are finally releasing their older films on DVD-R the quality leaves a lot to be desired and I don’t have the means to buy every film I want to see. I’d like the opportunity to rent them too and it’s a shame that libraries and other organizations won’t be able to carry them either. At least some of the films are showing up on Netflix instant watch. Maybe THE SATAN BUG will? The film is being released on DVD-R on 2/11 according to the TCM shop, which is taking pre-orders so keep on eye on Netflix after that in case it shows up.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 14, 2011 2:47 pm

Susan – Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Susan. As far as I know it was director William Wyler that made the final cuts on FUNNY GIRL mainly because the film was just too long and he wanted the story to focus on Streisand’s character. There seems to have been a lot of confusion over the situation over the years and Anne Francis published an open letter that she wrote to Streisand about the topic that you can read on her website: http://www.annefrancis.net/02_news/0202_ltr.html

Vinnie – I prefer this to THE STAND. King’s book is interesting but I didn’t care for the film version. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN on the other hand is a great movie too! THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN is much slower paced though and the focus is very different. It would be fun to watch both films back to back.

Dukeroberts – I have to agree with you. While I appreciate that companies like Warner and MGM are finally releasing their older films on DVD-R the quality leaves a lot to be desired and I don’t have the means to buy every film I want to see. I’d like the opportunity to rent them too and it’s a shame that libraries and other organizations won’t be able to carry them either. At least some of the films are showing up on Netflix instant watch. Maybe THE SATAN BUG will? The film is being released on DVD-R on 2/11 according to the TCM shop, which is taking pre-orders so keep on eye on Netflix after that in case it shows up.

Posted By Frank James Davis : February 3, 2011 8:48 pm

“Bad Day at Black Rock” is one movie I’ll always remember. It featured a trio of Hollywood’s scariest heavies; world-class “bad guys” who, in their prime, could have stepped onto any modern set and thoroughly chilled viewers. Ryan, Borgnine and Marvin–three of very best!
Spencer Tracy was, of course, typically compelling. And Ann Francis–as you already indicated, Kimberly–more than held her own. Didn’t hurt, either, that she was her usual dishy self.

Posted By Frank James Davis : February 3, 2011 8:48 pm

“Bad Day at Black Rock” is one movie I’ll always remember. It featured a trio of Hollywood’s scariest heavies; world-class “bad guys” who, in their prime, could have stepped onto any modern set and thoroughly chilled viewers. Ryan, Borgnine and Marvin–three of very best!
Spencer Tracy was, of course, typically compelling. And Ann Francis–as you already indicated, Kimberly–more than held her own. Didn’t hurt, either, that she was her usual dishy self.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : February 5, 2011 12:28 am

I’m huge fan of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK too, Frank. It’s one of my favorite westerns. I watched it again recently when it aired on TCM and it seems like I fall in love with it more every time I see it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : February 5, 2011 12:28 am

I’m huge fan of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK too, Frank. It’s one of my favorite westerns. I watched it again recently when it aired on TCM and it seems like I fall in love with it more every time I see it.

Posted By Tadeusz Raczkowski : May 23, 2011 9:49 pm

I’ve always been a fan of Anne Francis. There was something about her that always made her stand out in a crowd, very stunning to look at and always the feeling that there was integrity behind the smile, something that can’t be taught in acting schools. I’m gonna miss you Honey!

Posted By Tadeusz Raczkowski : May 23, 2011 9:49 pm

I’ve always been a fan of Anne Francis. There was something about her that always made her stand out in a crowd, very stunning to look at and always the feeling that there was integrity behind the smile, something that can’t be taught in acting schools. I’m gonna miss you Honey!

Posted By Paul Kyriazi : February 5, 2012 9:00 am

The Satan Bug is now available on DVD. It’s in my top 20 list of favorite movies. Just two months ago, I approached Ed Asner’s table at a celeberity show and said, “You were in the most suspeneful and wildest scene in movie history.” He opened his mouth in surprise and wonder. Then I said down a photo of him, Chakiris, and Ann Francis stanging in front of the abondoned gas station. He looked at it and I continued, “The gas station scene in ‘The Satan Bug’. We had a good talk about the movie as he signed the photo.
I got to talk to Anne Francis about it a few years back, as well. I also tried to hire George Maharis to narrate an audio-book that I produced three years back. He almost did it, but then changed his mind, so I got Frank Sinatra jr. instead. I have another one planned and still hope to get Maharis.

Posted By Paul Kyriazi : February 5, 2012 9:00 am

The Satan Bug is now available on DVD. It’s in my top 20 list of favorite movies. Just two months ago, I approached Ed Asner’s table at a celeberity show and said, “You were in the most suspeneful and wildest scene in movie history.” He opened his mouth in surprise and wonder. Then I said down a photo of him, Chakiris, and Ann Francis stanging in front of the abondoned gas station. He looked at it and I continued, “The gas station scene in ‘The Satan Bug’. We had a good talk about the movie as he signed the photo.
I got to talk to Anne Francis about it a few years back, as well. I also tried to hire George Maharis to narrate an audio-book that I produced three years back. He almost did it, but then changed his mind, so I got Frank Sinatra jr. instead. I have another one planned and still hope to get Maharis.

Posted By sandy ferber : February 15, 2012 3:48 pm

Nice review, Kimberly, of a decidedly undervalued film! Just recently, I happened to catch another Anne Francis film from 1965, “Brainstorm,” and I might just prefer this latter one over “The Satan Bug” even. What a year for the great Anne Francis, between “Honey West” and these two wonderful films! I might also add that Anne was always as nice as can be whenever I happened to write to her; she is most sorely missed….

Posted By sandy ferber : February 15, 2012 3:48 pm

Nice review, Kimberly, of a decidedly undervalued film! Just recently, I happened to catch another Anne Francis film from 1965, “Brainstorm,” and I might just prefer this latter one over “The Satan Bug” even. What a year for the great Anne Francis, between “Honey West” and these two wonderful films! I might also add that Anne was always as nice as can be whenever I happened to write to her; she is most sorely missed….

Posted By Sandy Ferber : January 5, 2017 2:54 pm

Nice review, Kimberly, of a film that I have always greatly enjoyed, especially since I have been a fan of Anne’s since the mid-’60s, when “Honey West” really blew my young mind. I also love MacLean’s original source novel for this film, which is set in the U.K. countryside, not the desert Southwest. And, oh, I believe that Anne also worked with director Sturges one other time…in the 1955 film “The Scarlet Coat,” released the same year as “Bad Day at Black Rock.” And yes, she is pretty much the only woman in the all-guy cast in THAT one, too….

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

We regret to inform you that FilmStruck is now closed.  Our last day of service was November 29, 2018.

Please visit tcm.com/help for more information.

We would like to thank our many fans and loyal customers who supported us.  FilmStruck was truly a labor of love, and in a world with an abundance of entertainment options – THANK YOU for choosing us.