King Rat (film)

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King Rat
King Rat film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bryan Forbes
Produced by James Woolf
Screenplay by Bryan Forbes
Based on King Rat
1963 novel
by James Clavell
Starring George Segal
Tom Courtenay
James Fox
Denholm Elliott
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 27, 1965 (1965-10-27)
Running time
134 min
Country United States
Language English

King Rat is a 1965 World War II film directed by Bryan Forbes, and starring George Segal as Corporal King and James Fox as Marlowe, two World War II prisoners of war in a squalid camp near Singapore. Among the supporting cast were John Mills and Tom Courtenay. The film was adapted from James Clavell's novel King Rat (1962), which in turn is partly based on Clavell's experiences as a POW at Changi Prison during the Second World War.


Corporal King is an anomaly in the Japanese prison camp. One of only a handful of Americans amongst the British and Australian inmates, he thrives through his conniving and black market enterprises; whereas others, nearly all of higher rank, struggle to survive sickness and starvation while trying to keep their civilised nature. King recruits upper class British RAF officer Flight Lieutenant Peter Marlowe to act as a translator. As they become acquainted, Marlowe comes to like the man and appreciate his cunning. King respects Marlowe, but his attitude is otherwise ambiguous; when Marlowe is injured, King obtains expensive medicines to save Marlowe's gangrenous arm from amputation, but, despite the fact he stays by the sick man's bedside, it is unclear whether he does so out of friendship or because Marlowe is the only one who knows where the proceeds from King's latest and most profitable venture are hidden.

King has a different relationship with the lower class, seemingly-incorruptible British Provost, First Lieutenant Grey. Grey has only contempt for the American and does his best to bring him down. Then Grey has to deal with an unrelated dilemma when he accidentally discovers that the high-ranking officer in charge of the meagre food rations has been stealing. Grey rejects a bribe and zealously takes the matter to Colonel George Smedley-Taylor. To his dismay, Smedley-Taylor tells him the corrupt officer and his assistant have been relieved of their duties, and orders him to forget all about it. Grey accuses Smedley-Taylor of being in on the scheme, but the tampered weight he presented to the colonel as evidence has been replaced, so he no longer has proof of the crime. Smedley-Taylor offers to promote him to acting captain: when a troubled Grey does not respond, Smedley-Taylor takes his silence as consent.

The camp commandant summons the senior British officers, and notifies them that the Japanese have surrendered and that the war is over. After overcoming their shock and disbelief, the prisoners celebrate – all except King. He realises he is no longer the unquestioned (if unofficial) ruler of the camp. A British paratrooper walks up to the prison gates and disarms the guards. The prisoners are stunned and refuse to speak to the paratrooper, except King, which makes the paratrooper suspicious. King manages to squelch a premature attempt by resentful underling First sergeant Max to reassert his rank and authority, but that only delays the inevitable. When Marlowe speaks to him before King's departure from the camp, King ignores his overture of renewed friendship.


Actor Role
George Segal Corporal King, an American soldier
Tom Courtenay Grey, a British First Lieutenant and later Acting Captain
James Fox Marlowe, a British Flight Lieutenant
Patrick O'Neal Max, an American First Sergeant
Denholm Elliott Larkin, a British Lieutenant Colonel
James Donald Dr. Kennedy
Todd Armstrong Tex, an American enlisted man
John Mills Smedley-Taylor, a British Colonel
Gerald Sim Jones, a British Lieutenant Colonel
Leonard Rossiter McCoy, a British Major
John Standing Daven, a British Captain
Alan Webb Brant, a British Colonel
John Ronane Hawkins, a British Captain
Sammy Reese Kurt, an American enlisted man
Michael Lees Stevens, hospital staff
Wright King Brough, British
Hamilton Dyce The Padre, British

Richard Dawson appears near the end of the film as Weaver, a paratrooper who is sent ahead to claim the prison from the Japanese, as the war has ended.


King Rat was nominated for Academy Awards for Cinematography (Burnett Guffey) and Art Direction (Robert Emmet Smith and Frank Tuttle).[1]

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