Willard (1971 film)

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Willard (1971) theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDaniel Mann
Produced byCharles A. Pratt
Mort Briskin
Written byGilbert Ralston
StarringBruce Davison
Elsa Lanchester
Ernest Borgnine
Sondra Locke
Music byAlex North
CinematographyRobert B. Hauser
Edited byWarren Low
Bing Crosby Productions
(Rysher Entertainment)
Distributed byCinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • June 18, 1971 (1971-06-18)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$14,545,941[1]

Willard is a 1971 American horror film directed by Daniel Mann and starring Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine. Based on the novel Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert, the film was nominated for an Edgar Award for best picture. The supporting cast included Elsa Lanchester in one of her last performances before her death, and Sondra Locke in one of her first. The film was a summer hit in 1971; opening to good reviews and high box office returns.[citation needed]


Willard Stiles is a meek social misfit who develops an affinity for rats. He lives in a large house with only his cranky and decrepit mother Henrietta for company. On his 27th birthday, he comes home to a surprise birthday party thrown by his mother, where all of the attendees are her friends. After leaving the party in embarrassment, he notices a rat in his backyard and tosses it pieces of his birthday cake.

His mother tells him to eliminate the rats. Willard uses food and a plank bridge to lure them into a pit in the backyard, then begins filling the pit with water to drown them. However, moved by the rats' piteous squeals as they realize their plight, he replaces the plank, allowing them to get to safety. He later begins playing with a rat he names Queenie. A white rat becomes his best companion and he names him Socrates. Other rats emerge, including a bigger black specimen whom he names Ben.

At work, Willard is tasked with an overwhelming number of accounts by his boss Al Martin, who usurped the business from Willard's father. Willard asks Al for a raise, having not received one since his father's death despite working after hours and weekends. Al refuses and pressures Willard to sell him his house. Willard sneaks into a party Al is hosting, opens a rat-filled suitcase, and urges them to get the food. The guests are terrorized by the rats, and Al destroys the catering tables trying to fend them off. The next day Willard's mother dies. He is informed that not only did she have no money to leave him, the house is heavily mortgaged.

Willard starts bringing Socrates and Ben to the office on Saturdays to keep him company while he is the only one there. His friend/temporary assistant, Joan, gives him a cat named Chloe to comfort him in the wake of his mother's death. He hands Chloe off to a stranger.

The rat population is growing and Willard cannot afford to keep feeding them. After overhearing one of Al's friends boasting of a large cash withdrawal, he sneaks into the man's house and orders his now-trained rats to tear up the bedroom door. The man and his wife wake up and flee the house upon seeing the rats, and Willard steals the bundle of cash.

The next day, a worker spots the rats. Al bludgeons Socrates to death, devastating Willard. When Joan refuses to persuade Willard to sell his house to Al, he fires both her and Willard, believing unemployment will force Willard to sell. That night, while Al is still at work, Willard enters the office with all of his rats. He confronts Al over the death of Socrates, the mistreatment of his father, and Al's machinations to buy his house, and instructs the rats to kill him. Unable to endure the agony of being chewed to death, Al commits suicide by jumping out the window. Unnerved by Al's gruesome death, Willard abandons Ben, orders the remaining rats into crates, and drowns them all in the backyard pit. He seals up any holes through which rats could gain entry.

Willard has dinner with Joan, telling her of his newfound self-confidence, which he attributes to her and Socrates. He is startled to hear Ben in the kitchen. Investigating, he finds hordes of rats in the basement. He orders Joan to leave and locks the door. Willard offers Ben and the rats food, which he mixes with pesticide. Ben reads the pesticide box and squeals loudly, alerting the others. Willard chases Ben upstairs, cornering him in a storage room. He barricades the door against the other rats, leaving Ben to face him alone. While Ben eludes Willard's attacks, the rats gnaw through the door. As the rats devour him, Willard shouts, "Ben, I was good to you!"



Box office[edit]

The film earned rentals of $9.25 million.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reception for Willard has been mixed. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 57%, based on 23 reviews, with a rating average of 5.8/10.[3] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film two out of a possible four stars. In his review he wrote, "Touching story of a boy and his rats captured public's fancy at the box office, but [the] film's lack of style prevents it from being anything more than a second-rate thriller."[4]


  • A seven-page satire by Mort Drucker and Dick DeBartolo titled "Willies" appeared in Mad #149 (March 1972). The cover of the magazine announced "In This Issue We Tear Apart Willard" and featured artwork by Jack Rickard.[5] The cover art portrays Alfred E. Neuman as Willard siccing an army of rodents (all dressed in Mickey Mouse pants and shoes with Mouseketeer ears) on a hapless Ernest Borgnine.
  • A sequel called Ben was released in 1972.
  • Two imitation films were made after Willard 's success: Stanley (1972), with trained rattlesnakes and Kiss of the Tarantula (1976), in which the main character is a young woman with trained tarantulas.
  • Willard serves as the opening anecdote to a chapter, "Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible..." in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus.
  • A remake, also titled Willard, was released in 2003 with Crispin Glover playing Willard. Bruce Davison has a cameo appearance in the film as Willard's father, appearing in a portrait.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Willard, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  2. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p. 44
  3. ^ "Willard (1971) – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  4. ^ Maltin, Leonard; Carson, Darwyn; Sader, Luke. Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Press. p. 1563. ISBN 978-0-451-41810-4.
  5. ^ Cover of Mad #149
  6. ^ Carr, Kevin (March 14, 2003). "Willard Movie Review". Fat Guys at the Movies. Retrieved 6 November 2018.

External links[edit]