Considering that Sondra Locke is chummy off screen and on with Clint Eastwood--and that his favorite studio, Warner Bros., controls distribution of the $8-million "Ratboy"--it's odd that she can't get her first feature as a director into theaters.

"I'm certainly just like anybody else who's ever made a film," Locke told us. "After you make it, you've got to find a way to make people want to see it."

The fable of a rodent-like boy (played by actress Sharon Baird) who's discovered and exploited by an ambitious journalist (Locke), "Ratboy" dazzled some French critics at last year's Deauville Film Festival (Le Parisien Libere called it "the revelation of the festival"). But it fizzled in test runs.

"It seems audiences are so accustomed to these big, glossy American films that they don't quite know what to make of something that's not mainstream," said Locke. "I sort of stopped the release pattern when we ran into the holidays. There was no point going up against those movies."

Now "Ratboy's" booked March 14 at the Beverly Cineplex.

Locke said her picture "tries to reflect some of our poor moral values today--how difficult it is to be different in our society, how we never look past the surface of things, how we're basically caught up in hype and materialism. It's not a film for everybody. It's really for people who are looking for something different."

She denied that her connection to Eastwood got the movie made: "People have this fantasy that it's all just an easy ride if you know someone important. Well, it's not. I've known lots of people in this business--and it hasn't really done anything for me. Still, in this country (more than in Europe), people seem to want to make that the issue. In a way, my association (with Eastwood) may even work against me."

Still, Outtakes had to ask her what Eastwood thinks of the film: "I'm happy to say that he loved it."

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