King Rat (1965) Kentucky Fried Rat In Mi Prison What Am I Gonna Do?

King Rat (1965) George Segal Bryan Forbes James Fox POW movie poster

“This is not a story of escape. It is a story of survival. It is set in Changi Jail Singapore, in 1945. The Japanese did not have to guard Changi as a normal prisoner of war camp. The inmates of Changi had no friendly Swiss border or any other neutral country within reach. They were held captive not so much by high walls, or barbed wire, or machine-gun posts, but by the land and sea around them – and the jungle was not neutral, nor was the ocean. They did not live in Changi. They existed. This is the story of that existence.”

Those are the opening words for King Rat. The first image we see is an incredible panning shot of a half naked officer, sat there on a throne with sun flare glaring on the camera lens. As the image reveals itself you realise he is sat on the toilet within a regimented line of stink holes off in the distance. This image of the weary gaunt old man with a vacant look is accompanied by composer John Barry’s sorrowful score. The images and music fuel the introduction of this movie with an underlying feeling of complete sadness and dread.

King Rat (1965) toilet scene officer pow prison film crapper stink hole

This prison camp is a mournful and devastated place. Dying, exhausted POW’s wander around hungry, desperate and completely broken. Rag tag clothes covered in dirt and grime, with hot sweaty faces these lost men pace about the prison compound. They try to keep the boredom at bay by busy building, farming the dead land, mending tattered clothes and brushing up the relentless dust. This is a god forsaken place.

King Rat (1965) pow camp military policemen Tom CourtenayKing Rat (1965) George Segal Bryan Forbes POW

Amongst the men, two stand out. One British, First Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay) an annoyingly by the book military policeman whos taken it upon himself to try and keep law and order in the camp. He has his strong morals but comes off snidey and a little malicious. To be honest, more of an uptight annoying arse. On the other hand, there’s American soldier Corporal King (George Segal), a man who stands out from everyone. Probably a sociopath, with a commanding ego, the ability to take advantage of weak broken men and use them to tend his needs. Adapting to his situation with ease, he is the only man in the camp who takes immaculate care of his clothes and appearance. You wonder what he may of been before the war? A salesmen? A conman? Maybe a lawyer? Whatever it was, he knows which button to press to control people.

King Rat (1965) George Segal James Fox black market translator

Corporal King also likes to make money, why he is still infatuated with material possessions? What good is money in this place anyway? Regardless, he’s always on the take and with his black market business growing he needs a translator to deal and barter with the prison guards. A position of “employment” is offered to British RAF officer Flight Lieutenant Peter Marlowe (James Fox). He’s a kind, thoughtful, almost innocent soul and with naivety he and King become good friends. A partnership that will bring in lots of scraps, crazy plans, gourmet food and run-ins with Provost Grey.

King Rat (1965) George Segal Patrick O'Neal Bryan Forbes James Fox POW

A few Wolfy Observations 

  • In amongst all the scrawny, malnourished prisoners of war, is a wonderful collection of familiar faces. Lots of British contingent from the likes of Denholm Elliott, Leonard Rossiter, John Mills, John Standing, James Donald starring alongside their Allied American friends, Patrick O’Neal and Todd Armstrong.

King Rat (1965) pow camp ww2 prisoner line up john mills Tom Courtenay

  • The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by novelist James Clavell. He himself had been a prisoner for three years with a Changi camp.
  • Bryan Forbes directed and even adapted the screenplay from Clavell’s novel.
  • King Rat had two nominations at the 1966 Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

King Rat (1965) George Segal Patrick O'Neal eating dog stew

  • Look out for the scene within a small room where King shows off his cooking skills while they try to keep the stew smells confined to the room. With the salivating faces of the dinner guests, it’s an extremely well acted scene.
  • And yes there are rats to be seen in King Rat. Unfortunately KFR doesn’t have the same ring as KFC.

King Rat (1965) Denholm Elliott japanese prison guard ww2

This is a deep, dark, delve into what means the human spirit will go to, to survive under horrific and challenging circumstances. It’s a clever film that makes you think what would you do in that situation? The ending is pretty powerful and thought provoking too. Of course all this has a rather depressing manner and it’s definitely not for everyone but hey this is a World War 2 prisoner of war film. So where you might get heroics, escapes and stiff upper lip from the likes of The Great EscapeThe Bridge on the River Kwai etc in King Rat you don’t. It’s much more cynical look at life within a bleak POW camp. I would say it’s got more in common with Sidney Lumet’s The Hill that was released in the same year.

Thanks for dropping on by the yard, feel free to comment if you wish. To sing us out here’s UB40 and Rat In Mi Kitchen

15 thoughts on “King Rat (1965) Kentucky Fried Rat In Mi Prison What Am I Gonna Do?

  1. Wonderful review. Can’t wait to see this. I can see that Segal is perfectly cast as the “King Rat”, or is he king rat? I’ll have to watch. But anyway I love how you describe the beginning. How bold and disturbing is that? A gaunt soldier setting on what at first appears to be…beach chairs? And they turn out to be toilets?! That disturbing and real. Well done, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Segal is quite the handsome guy in this, I hadn’t noticed it before. He plays the part perfectly. James Fox is extremely likeable and watch out for a little but great performance from Patrick O’Neal too. Yeah I think you have kind of guessed it a bit but there is more than meets the eye…. It’s a wonderful different approach to the human drive in difficult circumstances. Not a film to jump straight into but when you ready for that kind of story, I think you will get sucked into the drama much like I did. Thank you as always… Mikey

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the kind of movie one doesn’t forget easily. Segal was just hitting his stride and anything with Mills and Denholm demands ones attention. I’d have to go back and have a look Hut this was one of the first films I featured when I was starting up Mike’s Take.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This has been on my to watch list for ages. I think I need to hurry up and check it out. The Hill is a brutal flick, and it sounds as if this one has a similar tone. Great write up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Maddy. Yes very similar in tone as The Hill. Though King Rat does take things in on different path. Both came out the same year I found out. I’m sure you will like it very much when you get to see it. Thank you…………… MIkey


  4. Great post 🙂 This looks interesting. I have not seen it yet, but the cast makes me want to go and check it out. I mean George Segal, Denholm Elliott and John Mills makes it sound engaging. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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