Ben (1972)

BEN (1972)
Article 2304 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2007
Posting Date: 12-3-2007
Directed by Phil Karlson
Featuring Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell

A child befriends a rat who is the ringleader of a killer pack of rats. He tries to save him from a citywide effort to clear out the rat infestation.

Ten thoughts on BEN

1) Whatever the merits of this movie, you have to admit it’s a fitting follow-up to yesterday’s EYE OF THE CAT . Now if only we could get a dual sequel to both movies, where the cats in the earlier movie take on the rats in this one. For some reason, this reminds me of a scene from Dwain Esper’s MANIAC , which is not a good movie to be hearkening back to this early in the review.

2) This is the sequel to WILLARD. I remember when that movie was in release; it was quite a sensation in its day. Oddly enough, the movie seems somewhat forgotten now, even though a remake was made just a few years ago; I very rarely hear it talked about.

3) Here’s an idea for a movie festival – SEWERFEST – run a whole string of movies that have extensive sewer footage. If you run them in order of quality, you can start out with the likes of THEM and THE THIRD MAN. In that case, this one would be near the bottom snuggling up to INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN .

4) This movie has my all-time favorite newspaper headline, though you have to keep your eyes open to catch it. To quote, “RATS! RATS! RATS!” They don’t even try to make a pun out of it.

5) This movie tries its damnedest to work up some sympathy for the little boy who befriends the rat. Not only is he an outcast picked on by the meaner kids, but he has a bad heart and has to have dangerous operations just to stay alive. Unfortunately, it’s a losing battle; he has a huge playroom all to his own that includes a train set and a marionette theatre with a specially designed light-up display. He also composes some of the most godawful ditties I’ve ever heard. And finally, he’s played by Lee Harcourt Montgomery, who had to be one of the least appealing child actors I’ve ever seen. Oh, how you’ll be wishing the rats would turn on him like they did their previous mentor in WILLARD.

6) At one point, the boy entertains Ben the rat with a newly designed rat marionette. If the movie really wanted a moment when it could unleash the rats on the boy, this would have been it.

7) This movie has a wealth of product placement in it, especially during a scene where the rats wreak havoc in the cereal aisle of a grocery store. We see Ben poised right over the “Kelloggs” logo on a box of corn flakes, and we also see the rats ravaging packages of Cheerios, a product of General Mills. I’ve come to the conclusion that the product placement must have been done by Post; let’s face it, would you really want YOUR cereal company to have the image of rat hanging over your logo?

8) There’s a moment here where the rats case a cheese shop for their next hit. Somehow, the utter logic of this moment gave me the biggest laugh in the movie.

9) There’s a running motif here with a policeman breaking his cigarette every time someone tries to light it. If there’s an explanation for this, I’m not sure I care to hear it.

10) .. and finally, my hat is off to a young Michael Jackson; I’ve always had a sneaking affection for his rendition of the theme song to this movie, which he makes sound heartfelt and moving. This impresses me especially now after having seen the movie, because the scene where the boy composes the tune (the worst moment in the movie) makes it sound like the most hideous piece of tripe ever.

By the way, this movie did not spawn another sequel. Somebody came to their senses. And, as a side note, the movie was co-produced by Bing Crosby.



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