Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Willard" is ratty tale

Cleveland Press July 8, 1971

It's the kind of thing that sends a reviewer out of the theater shaking his head when he isn't shuddering and jumping if something touches his shoulder.

And it leaves him where all the people come from when the movies the public claims it wants play to empty seats.

There is a movie called "Willard" and it is about rats and is doing phenomenal business all over the country. It is about people too -- but it is mostly about rats.

If the success of "Love Story" means the movie industry is going to swing into a romantic mood, what will "Willard" do? We may be in for a bunch of creepy, crawly movies.

And how do people know that they want to see "Willard" before it even opens? Is it because they see the ads with the little beady rat eye staring at them and the television commercials with rats attacking Ernest Borgnine ?

Do they say? "Aha, just what I wanted! A picture about rats that eat people alive."

"Willard" is about this moody boy named Willard (Bruce Davison) who isn't very happy. He has a lowly position at a business once owned by his father, but his boss (Borgnine) cheated the old man out of the place.

Willard lives in this big old drafty house with his ailing mother (Elsa Lanchester) who nags at him to fix leaky faucets. She's not very well and she dies leaving Willard all alone. And his mean old boss wants to cheat him out of his property he can tear down the house and put up apartments.

It's a good, old classic fairy tale plot and wouldn't you know it -- some animals come to his rescue.

He makes friends with a couple of rats called Socrates and Ben and these two invite a few friends in and before you know it Willard has a cellar filled with rats. All he has to do is make funny noises and they go this way and that. A regular army.

Just how this rapport is established is never quite indicated.

Anyway, when things look darkest Willard uses his rats to bring himself a little cheer -- like breaking up his boss' fancy party and aiding in a burglary.

When Willard's boss fires him, he marches in with his army and has the rats tear him apart . Matters don't end here, and it seems Willard has created himself a bunch of little monsters.

"Willard" has some terrifying moments but it never comes up to being a''Psycho" with rats that it sometimes aspires to. In between the horror scenes matters develop with little suspense or even mood.

The real stars of "WiIIard" are Moe and Nora DiSesso who trained Socrates and Ben and those other rats. The two rats really steal the show and they seem too nice to be so mean. In fact just why the rats should attack Borgnine so viciously is never established.

Davison deserves credit for working with rats sitting on his shoulders and Borgnine too for undergoing a rat attack although raised eyebrows and a frightened look might just as well be real as a matter of acting under the circumstances.