Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Ben (1972)

Following on immediately from the end of Willard, this is a mediocre film that suffers greatly in comparison to the greatness that preceded it. Although you still get some dangerous rats, there's very little else here that we got in the first film, from the characters to the quality of acting to the overall tone of the whole thing.

Where Willard gave you a young man that you could root for, Ben gives you a boy who is very hard to like. His name is Danny Garrison, and he's played by Lee Montgomery. Danny is a bit lonely, so that makes him the next obvious choice to be friends with Ben and his large pack of ratty friends. While the police try to track down all of the rodents and kill them off, Danny amuses himself by making up songs about his new friend ("Ben" sounds pretty good when Michael Jackson is singing it, not so much when Montgomery is doing the vocals), playing with marionettes, and not dutifully handing over all rat information to the relevant authority figures.

Directed by Phil Karlson, Ben doesn't really know how it wants to play out. The script, by a returning Gilbert A. Ralston, doesn't help, moving from the finale of the first movie to an uninteresting tale of a boy finding a rat and holding on to him like some kind of fluffy action figure. There are moments of rat mayhem here and there, but they don't feel like anything other than filler in a film where they should be some of the main set-pieces. Hampered by the central idea, Karlson makes everything worse by keeping the whole movie tension-free and strangely chipper.

The cast also don't do anything to help. Well, the human cast anyway. Montgomery isn't very good. In fact, he's pretty awful for most of the movie. Rosemary Murphy and Meredith Baxter are better, playing Beth and Eve Garrison, respectively, and Joseph Campanella, Arthur O'Connell, and Kaz Garas are able to stand around, ponder the rat problem, and look determined about sorting things out.

It may be unfair to compare this so much to the first film, and I get that every film should be judged on its own merits, but the fact that it uses the opening scenes to show the end of the first movie and to then continue the storyline "seamlessly" doesn't do it any favours. Viewers are immediately reminded of just how great Willard was, to then be almost immediately disheartened by how lacklustre this is.

There are pluses. Not many, but they are there. First of all, some scenes do feature an impressive number of rats scrabbling around and over one another. Second, you get to hear Michael Jackson singing over the end credits. Third . . . actually, no, there is no third. There are two main positives to take away from my viewing of this film, and I'll give it a point for each, plus one whole point for the acceptable work of the actors who aren't named Lee Montgomery.


This is the best way to buy the film (because you get a better film with it).
Americans can get the movie here.

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