One of the stranger BIG box office hits from the early seventies, WILLARD is infested with rodents, but very few scares.
A very young Bruce Davidson stars as Willard Stiles, a timid young accountant who suffers, cringing in the wake of Martin (Ernest Borgnine) his loud, demanding boss.
Willard lives at home with his aging mother Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) in their crumbling, big old Victorian house.
Browbeat by his boss, trampled on by life, Willard begins to make friends with the rats in his basement, calling out a large white one for being especially smart and naming his hairy buddy Socrates.
It's hard to get a handle on Williard. In some scenes he seems more like Wendy The Slow Adult than a shy accountant. He speaks in cringe-worthy baby talk to his rodent friends and he teaches the rats words simply by repeating them and holding up an object.
The genetically enhanced chimpanzees in the new "Planet of the Apes" film series don't have anything on Willard's common rats.
The film seems to imply that they are not only understanding human language in short order, but applying reason and emotion as well. It's, in a word, stupid.
Thankfully the b-movie makers understand the more action they throw at us, the less we will try to understand the story.
Willard is soon having mobs of his rat friends invade his bosses back yard house party and helping him rob houses.
Borgnine is pretty good as the ultimate sexist, arrogant and demeaning boss in an office that may have single handedly inspired the HR departments of the 80's.
Sondra Locke appears here as a beautiful young temp that sees the good in Willard. She's a standout in the cast, a few years before she went on to be Clint Eastwood's co-star in life and films such as "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "The Gauntlet" and "Sudden Impact".
Davidson is OK in a strangely written part and the special effects are laughable. It's all too apparent that when Willard the white rat and Ben the black rat and friends are attacking folks that they are being thrown through the air by stage hands onto the actors.
When I was 11, this movie rocked and I remember reading the paperback version and loving it as well. Oh my, that was a long time ago!
It's strange that this low budget, silly little movie became such a big hit, but it did, driving a sequel the following year called BEN.
As for Willard, its all rats and no scares.
Like Willard's accounting skills, it gets a D.