Ben (1972)

PG | 93-95 mins | Drama | June 1972

Director:

Phil Karlson

Producer:

Mort Briskin

Cinematographer:

Russell Metty

Editor:

Harry Gerstad

Production Designer:

Rolland M. Brooks

Production Company:

Bing Crosby Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

Although the film's copyright holder and production company is listed by copyright records as Bing Crosby Productions, Inc., some contemporary sources refer to the company as BCP Productions, Inc. Ben begins with footage from its predecessor, the 1971 picture Willard (see below). Underneath the credits for Ben is footage of “Willard Stiles,” played by Bruce Davison, finding the rat “Ben,” whom he thought was dead, in his house. Ben organizes his army of rats to kill Willard, and after he is dead, the credits end and the film begins as a crowd gathers outside of Willard’s home.
       In Jul 1971, Cinerama announced plans to make a sequel to Willard , one of the top-grossing films of 1971. Mort Briskin repeated his role as producer, with the screenplay again written by Gilbert A. Ralston. Although Willard was based on the book Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the screenplay for Ben was original, using only the character of Ben. Moe Di Sesso, who trained the 500 rats used in Willard , trained approximately 4,000 rats for Ben , according to studio publicity notes, which also reported that portions of the picture were shot at the same Wilshire Blvd. mansion, built in 1908 and formerly owned by Howard Verbeck, that was used in Willard .
       A 3 Nov 1971 DV news item reported that Ben Frank had been added to the cast, but his appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed. Harold Lewis is credited with sound on the film’s first HR production ... More Less

Although the film's copyright holder and production company is listed by copyright records as Bing Crosby Productions, Inc., some contemporary sources refer to the company as BCP Productions, Inc. Ben begins with footage from its predecessor, the 1971 picture Willard (see below). Underneath the credits for Ben is footage of “Willard Stiles,” played by Bruce Davison, finding the rat “Ben,” whom he thought was dead, in his house. Ben organizes his army of rats to kill Willard, and after he is dead, the credits end and the film begins as a crowd gathers outside of Willard’s home.
       In Jul 1971, Cinerama announced plans to make a sequel to Willard , one of the top-grossing films of 1971. Mort Briskin repeated his role as producer, with the screenplay again written by Gilbert A. Ralston. Although Willard was based on the book Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the screenplay for Ben was original, using only the character of Ben. Moe Di Sesso, who trained the 500 rats used in Willard , trained approximately 4,000 rats for Ben , according to studio publicity notes, which also reported that portions of the picture were shot at the same Wilshire Blvd. mansion, built in 1908 and formerly owned by Howard Verbeck, that was used in Willard .
       A 3 Nov 1971 DV news item reported that Ben Frank had been added to the cast, but his appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed. Harold Lewis is credited with sound on the film’s first HR production chart but in all subsequent charts, Leon M. Leon, who is credited onscreen, is listed rather than Lewis. The extent of Lewis’ contribution to the completed film, if any, has not been determined. Although the onscreen credits “introduce” child actor Lee Harcourt Montgomery, he had previously appeared in the 1971 Disney film The Million Dollar Duck (see below).
       “Ben’s Song,” which was sung by Michael Jackson, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song and won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The song became one of the young Jackson’s most popular hits and was recorded by several other singers. According to Oct 1974 DV and HR news items, Cinema Songs, the company that first published “Ben’s Song,” sued Bing Crosby Productions, Cinerama Releasing and Jobete Music Co. over the division of royalties, but the disposition of the case has not been determined. The rat playing Ben won a Patsy Award honoring animal performers, according to a Sep 1972 LAT news item. Although the pressbook for Ben implied that there would be another sequel, featuring 10,000 rats, to be released in 1973, the film was not made. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Jul 1972
p. 4504.
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1971.
---
Daily Variety
26 Oct 1971.
---
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1971
p. 3.
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1974.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 317-18.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1971
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 1971
p. 27.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 1974.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Jun 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Jun 1972
Section IV, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
25 Sep 1972.
---
Motion Picture Herald
Jul 1972.
---
New York Times
24 Jun 1972
p. 19.
Time
24 Jul 1972.
---
Variety
25 Aug 1971.
---
Variety
14 Jun 1972
p. 24.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
Chief elec
Head grip
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
In charge of prod operations
Post prod supv
Unit prod mgr
Animals trained by
Marionettes by
Casting
Scr supv
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on characters created by Stephen Gilbert.
SONGS
"Ben's Song," music by Walter Scharf, lyrics by Don Black, sung by Michael Jackson
"Start the Day," music by Walter Scharf, lyrics by Don Black.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
June 1972
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 21 June 1972
Production Date:
15 November--mid December 1971 at Paramount Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Bing Crosby Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 June 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41093
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
93-95
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Ben, a rat trained by shy Willard Stiles, turns on his master after being betrayed by him and induces his many rodent followers to murder Willard. After Willard’s tattered corpse is discovered, an anxious crowd gathers around his Los Angeles home, and Detective Cliff Kirtland and his assistant, Joe Greer, lead the investigation into his death. They find Willard’s diary, detailing his friendship with Socrates, another rat, and Ben, but refuse to release the document, which describes how Willard trained the rats to kill his overbearing boss, veteran newspaperman Billy Hatfield. Ben, who is silently observing the men, has instructed his family to hide in the old mansion’s walls. While waiting for health department officials, policemen Kelly and Reade guard the house, and Reade wanders into the cellar where Willard had trained his friends. Reade deduces that the animals are hiding in the walls, but when he rips out one panel, Ben instructs them to kill the policeman. Kelly runs in too late to help his partner, and after surveying the remains, Kirtland gives Willard’s diary to Hatfield. The next day, at a nearby house, Eve Garrison and her young brother Danny, who suffers from a potentially fatal heart problem, spend the day together as usual. Ever since the death of their father, Eve has stayed home to care for Danny while their mother Beth struggles to maintain the family business. In his “workroom,” a small building close to the house, Danny plays with his beloved marionettes. As Danny begins to eat his lunch, Ben approaches through a hole in a screen, and Danny eagerly shares his sandwich with ... +


Ben, a rat trained by shy Willard Stiles, turns on his master after being betrayed by him and induces his many rodent followers to murder Willard. After Willard’s tattered corpse is discovered, an anxious crowd gathers around his Los Angeles home, and Detective Cliff Kirtland and his assistant, Joe Greer, lead the investigation into his death. They find Willard’s diary, detailing his friendship with Socrates, another rat, and Ben, but refuse to release the document, which describes how Willard trained the rats to kill his overbearing boss, veteran newspaperman Billy Hatfield. Ben, who is silently observing the men, has instructed his family to hide in the old mansion’s walls. While waiting for health department officials, policemen Kelly and Reade guard the house, and Reade wanders into the cellar where Willard had trained his friends. Reade deduces that the animals are hiding in the walls, but when he rips out one panel, Ben instructs them to kill the policeman. Kelly runs in too late to help his partner, and after surveying the remains, Kirtland gives Willard’s diary to Hatfield. The next day, at a nearby house, Eve Garrison and her young brother Danny, who suffers from a potentially fatal heart problem, spend the day together as usual. Ever since the death of their father, Eve has stayed home to care for Danny while their mother Beth struggles to maintain the family business. In his “workroom,” a small building close to the house, Danny plays with his beloved marionettes. As Danny begins to eat his lunch, Ben approaches through a hole in a screen, and Danny eagerly shares his sandwich with him. Danny, weary of his enforced solitude, is delighted to learn that when he speaks, Ben understands him. That night, Ben leads the rats on a raid of a food delivery truck, terrifying the driver into hitting an oncoming car. The next day, a policeman notifies the Garrisons that exterminators will be coming through the neighborhood the following morning to install traps and poison. Danny tells his sister and mother that he has a new friend, a rat, but Eve dismisses it as evidence of the boy’s active imagination. Eve playfully comments that maybe it was Ben, the leader of the rats in Willard’s diary, which has been published in Hatfield’s paper, and Danny, who likes the name, decides to use it. That night, Danny composes a song about his friendship with Ben, which touches Eve. Later, Ben and his army, now thousands strong, decimate a supermarket before they are discovered by a night watchman. Ben then leads his followers into the sewer, where they have made their home in a huge, disused room reached via an abandoned tunnel. During the day, Ben again visits Danny’s workshop, where Danny puts on a show for him with a rat marionette. Cuddling Ben, Danny shows him the newspaper story about the supermarket raid and warns him that he will have to be more cautious in order to evade capture. Winded after playing Ben’s song on his harmonica, Danny shows his furry friend the scar from his heart operation. Danny then watches as the exterminators place traps and poison around the Garrison home. He demonstrates to Ben what the traps are, then releases him in a nearby alley, after which an older, bigger boy, Henry Gray, begins to torment Danny. Infuriated by Henry’s attack on Danny, Ben and his followers bite the boy’s legs until he runs away. Danny is cheered by his protectors but later that evening, when Kirtland and Greer question him, Danny maintains that Henry fell into a rosebush. When Danny mentions Ben, he cunningly brings out the rat marionette to make them believe that he has made up an imaginary friend. Back at the office, Kirtland and Greer wrangle with a city engineer who maintains that they have searched over two hundred miles of sewers, and that it will take several days to finish their survey of the sewers. While Kirtland is insisting that the search be completed immediately, Ben and his army invade a cheese shop next to a weight loss spa, thereby terrifying the occupants when they swarm through the spa. Another day, after Danny plays with Ben and some of his friends, he asks Ben to show him where they live. Danny follows as Ben leads him down a storm drain and through the tunnels to the room containing thousands of rats. Although the animals’ first instinct is to attack Danny, Ben chides them and they fall back. After complimenting Ben on his house, Danny, gasping for breath, struggles home. He hears on the radio that the police are expanding the campaign to destroy the rats, and when Ben and several others appear at the window, Danny gratefully tucks them into his bed. When Eve checks on Danny, she finds the animals sleeping with him and reacts in horror, after which Beth calls Kirtland and Greer. Although Danny refuses to reveal Ben’s whereabouts, Kirtland intensifies the search of the area’s sewers. When two workers descend into the sewer near Ben’s lair, Ben orders his followers to kill them, although one man escapes. Soon a huge assembly of construction workers, police and fire fighters arrive, led by Kirtland and Greer. Using the engineer’s maps, they determine that the rats can be driven by flamethrowers and water hoses to an abandoned distribution tank, where they can be drowned. Danny, alerted by roving police cars ordering residents to remain indoors, rushes out and slips into the storm drain to find Ben. Eve follows, although she quickly gets lost as she searches for her brother. As the workmen descend, Danny finds Ben and begs him to flee. Telling him he loves him, Danny follows Ben’s directions to leave and is found by Eve. The two eventually find their way to the street through a manhole cover while below, Ben’s rats fight vigorously. As the workmen flee, the frustrated Kirtland and Greer go below to appraise the situation and are able to rally their troops enough to overcome the rats’ organization and ferocity. After the rodents are killed, Kirtland and Greer discuss the situation with Hatfield, and the policemen admit that they have never faced such determined adversaries. Hatfield opines that all any creature wants is room to live, while at the Garrisons’, a sobbing Danny goes to his workroom. Crying over his rat marionette, Danny hears a squeak and sees the wounded Ben, who has managed to escape the carnage. Overjoyed, Danny gets a first aid kit and gently tends to Ben, promising him that they will get well together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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