King Rat (1965)

king rat 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: An island prison camp.

British and American POWs are held on an Island prison camp run by the Japanese during WW II. This camp is unlike the others as it does not have any walls, barbed wire fences, or prison guards. The men are allowed to roam freely while trapped on a tiny island with nowhere to go. Corporal King (George Segal) manages to wheel-and-deal his way to the top of the food chain by getting involved with the underground black market, which allows him to live the relative good-life while the other prisoners remain near starvation. He befriends Marlowe (James Fox) who can speak the Malaysian language, which he feels can come in handy as he gets involved with a diamond smuggling operation as well as selling deer meat, which unbeknownst to his customers is actually meat from rats who’ve feed off of the bodies of the other dead prisoners.

To some extent one can find some similarities to this and The Great Escape or Stalag 17 in that the prisoners have managed to create their own underground network without their captors being aware, but that is pretty much where the comparisons end. This film is darker and examines more the psychological deterioration that the men go through while realizing its themselves and each other that is more the enemy than the actual Japanese guards who are shown very little and have no presence at the camp or in the movie.

Segal gives a star making performance as a anti-hero who could easily be quite unlikable, but Segal’s engaging on-screen persona gives the character an added spark making him and his constant conniving more amusing than anything particularly with the way he barters with the Malaysian guards during their discussions on the price of the transfer of diamonds.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well especially Fox as the only sympathetic character and Tom Courtenay as the overzealous Grey and his never-ending crusade to take King and his cronies down. James Donald is also good as the no-nonsense Dr. with a very matter-of-fact bedside manner and a young Richard Dawson who gets the shock of his life when he comes in after the Japanese surrender to free the men of their enslavement only to find that they’re strangely reluctant to leave.

The film works in episodic fashion and while it maintains a gritty level it also has some lulls and few too many shifts in tone. There are though many unique and memorable moments including the ending where the men find themselves free to return home, but respond much differently than you’d expect. There is also a scene where the men kill a dog after it attacks some chickens and then later eat it as if it were a delicacy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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