Friday, March 23, 2018

TCM Underground moved

I mentioned in a couple of posts earlier this month about the programming changes on TCM for the Saturday morning block, as well as the second airing of Noir Alley on Saturday night (at least in the more westerly time zones, since it's midnight ET which is technically Sunday already). The addition of the second Noir Alley showing also resulted in the moving of TCM Underground to the overnight between Friday and Saturday. This week's edition includes a double feature that last aired last October: Willard at 2:45 AM, followed by Ben at 4:30 AM.

Ben begins where Willard ends, quite literally: the opening credits of Ben include the final scenes of Willard in which Willard meets his fate regarding the rats. The police, led by detective Kirtland (Joseph Campanella), investigate the incident, which unsurprisingly has a lot of people in the neighborhood on edge. Kirtland finds Willard's diary, but he knows that nobody will believe what's in it. Well, reporter Hatfield (Arthur O'Connell) probably would, although there's no real reason why his character needs to be in the movie.

One of the local families is the Garrisons: widow Beth (Rosemary Murphy), her daughter Eve (Meredith Baxter, long before David Birney and Family Ties), and obnoxious kid brother Danny (Lee Montgomery). Danny is sickly, having been forced to have a heart operation with the possibility of another that might kill him, and one of the results is that he has no friends, spending his time playing with his marionettes.

That is, until Ben the rat shows up at the window. Danny finally has a friend. Really. Ben, meanwhile, continues to lead the rats on foraging missions that terrify people in various places, with their trip to a "European" spa (that really looks more like the remnants of one of those health clubs from 1930s movies) being the most hilarious. The police continue to investigate, and Danny lies through his teeth about having any knowledge of the rats of where they live.

I'm sorry to say that I found Ben nowhere near as good as Willard, and most of that is down to the presence of the kid son, who's such a brat that frankly I would have been happy if his character died when the police were exterminating the rats in Los Angeles' drainage system. The cinematography looks like it belongs to a TV movie, and the title song, famously sung by Michael Jackson over the closing credits and nominated for an Oscar, is introduced mawkishly and pointlessly earlier in the movie.

For some reason, I thought Ben was part of a set on DVD with Willard, but a search of the TCM Shop says no. I might have recommended buying the set, but I'm not so certain I'd recommend buying Ben alone. As always, though, judge for yourself.

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