King Rat

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"They Made the Toughest Among Them... King!"
  • Approved
  • 1965
  • 2 hr 14 min
  • 7.5  (5,035)

In 1965's "King Rat", James Clavell, the writer of "The Great Escape", brings the experience of his own time in a Japanese internment camp to the big screen. Set in WWII Singapore, King Rat, based on Clavell's own novel, follows a young American soldier, Corporal King (George Segal), who has survived imprisonment by the Japanese. He's now serving as a black marketeer, earning favors and privileges from his fellow American prisoners and even the camp guards. As King negotiates his way through the complicated web of allegiances, he becomes entangled with a variety of intriguing characters, most notably the cunning and enigmatic British officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George Smedley-Taylor (Tom Courtenay) and Peter Marlowe (James Fox), a young British soldier who has a passion for Shakespeare.

The movie is a reflection on power, survival, and human nature. The characters must navigate their complex relations with the Japanese guards while struggling to survive a brutal and unforgiving internment camp. Kudos, the city's most brutal guard, is King's only true nemesis within the camp, and his desire for power and authority echoes on the American soldiers who also use their power to survive.

As the movie progresses, King's goals change, and his gambles get bigger. As he plays the game of survival, Clavell shows us how easy it is for men to lose sight of their own humanity. But, through the strong performances of Segal, Fox, and Courtenay, the audience is also drawn into the hope and commiseration experienced by the characters.

The taut direction and sleek cinematography keep the tension high throughout the story. The film, shot entirely on location, captures the oppressive humidity and grime of the camp which intensifies the claustrophobia and stark realism of the setting. The small sets, along with the film's slow, measured pace, give the impression that the characters are trapped in an inescapable nightmare of their own making. The movie's jazzy score, mixed with the sounds of wartime Singapore, adds another layer of atmosphere to the tense drama.

A stunning feature of the movie is the script's language, where the characters seem always to speak their lingua franca — a combination of English, Chinese, and Malay. The dialogue serves as an illustration of how language morphs and changes based on a speaker's environment. In "King Rat," each character creates a unique form of communication, so foreign yet so familiar, which elevates the audience's experience.

The performances of the principal cast demand attention, with Segal embodying the cynical survivor's struggle for power and control with his familiar deadpan humor intact. Courtenay, on the other hand, delivers a nuanced portrayal of a British officer, a man who still clings to his moral underpinnings amid the horrors and nonstop depravity of camp life. Coupled with Fox's excellent portrayal of the Shakespearean scholar and soldier, King Ratis a shining example of the calibre of acting skills in the 1960s. The supporting cast also plays their part impeccably, especially James Donald as the dignified and respected Camp Provost, Lieutenant-Colonel Max, and Patrick O'Neal as the fastidious American Colonel G.J. Purdy.

However, the sheer brutality of the conditions in the camp makes King Rat an emotionally heavy experience. The casual disregard for life by the Japanese guards, as well as the human cost of the prisoners' constant efforts to survive, often leave the audience feeling drained. But that is the essence of Clavell's story. It pursues the depths that war can plunge a human soul and highlight how the unyielding harshness of imprisonment can erode camaraderie and reduce men to focused survival machines.

To conclude, King Rat remains a magnificent example of filmmaking, bringing together outstanding direction, excellent script, stunning performances, and breathtaking cinematography – a rare combination today. It is a critique of human nature in dire circumstances, and above all, it serves as a worthy adaptation to Clavell's novel – a story that demands to be told, shown, and witnessed by all cinema lovers.

King Rat is a 1965 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.5.

King Rat
Where to Watch King Rat
King Rat is available to watch free on Tubi TV. It's also available to stream, download and buy on demand at Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube VOD and Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent King Rat for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 14 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.5  (5,035)