(1965)3Craig ButlerAlthough movies had previously dealt with prisoner-of-war (POW) camps (e.g., Stalag 17), most of these films focused on the efforts of the men trapped inside to escape. Although escape and freedom are discussed in King Rat, the film really is more concerned with how men survive inside the prison. Indeed, the title character is not necessarily looking forward to an eventual liberation of the camp. Inside, he is somebody to be feared and respected; outside, he is one of the crowd. The film also examines how people create prisons of their own making, such as Grey, who is trapped by his own rigid (and unsatisfying) code of conduct. This is easier to make work in a novel than onscreen, and too often the film settles for melodrama rather than insight. The actors, however, are consistently good. George Segal gives what is arguably the best performance of his career, capturing the smugness and toughness of the character, never flinching from presenting his flaws, yet still making him somewhat sympathetic. It's a performance that grows richer upon repeated viewings. Tom Courtenay delivers another one of his impressive performances, of which there were many in the 1960s, and James Fox is a good counterbalance to Segal. A bit too long and sometimes afraid to delve deeply enough into its subject, King Rat is still an interesting and involving character study.
James Clavell incorporated a few of his own experiences as a British POW in his novel King Rat. Bryan Forbes' film version stars George Segal as the mastermind of all black market operations in a Japanese prison camp. He is called "King Rat" because of his breeding of rodents to serve as food for his emaciated fellow prisoners; the nickname also alludes to Segal's shifty personality. British officer James Fox helps Segal expand his operation to include trading with the Japanese officers. Though on surface level a thoroughly selfish sort, Segal saves the ailing Fox's life by wangling precious antibiotics from the guards.