King Rat (film)

King Rat is a 1965 American war film written and directed by Bryan Forbes and starring George Segal and James Fox. They play Corporal King and Marlowe, respectively, two World War II prisoners of war in a squalid camp near Singapore. Among the supporting cast are 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.

King Rat
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBryan Forbes
Produced byJames Woolf
Screenplay byBryan Forbes
Based onKing Rat
1963 novel
by James Clavell
StarringGeorge Segal
Tom Courtenay
James Fox
Denholm Elliott
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byWalter Thompson
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 27, 1965 (1965-10-27) (New York City)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States


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 summonses 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 lone British paratrooper appears from seemingly nowhere, walks up to the prison gates and unceremoniously disarms the guards. The prisoners are stunned and are too shocked by the sudden events to speak to the paratrooper, except King. That King appears fit and is well-dressed among the other prisoners clad in rags makes the paratrooper suspicious and accusatory as to how that could be. 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.


George SegalCorporal King, an American soldier
Tom CourtenayGrey, a British First Lieutenant and later Acting Captain
James FoxMarlowe, a British Flight Lieutenant
Patrick O'NealMax, an American First Sergeant
Denholm ElliottLarkin, a British Lieutenant Colonel
James DonaldDr. Kennedy
Todd ArmstrongTex, an American enlisted man
John MillsSmedley-Taylor, a British Colonel
Gerald SimJones, a British Lieutenant Colonel
Leonard RossiterMcCoy, a British Major
John StandingDaven, a British Captain
Alan WebbBrant, a British Colonel
John RonaneHawkins, a British Captain
Sammy ReeseKurt, an American enlisted man
Michael LeesStevens, hospital staff
Wright KingBrough, American
Hamilton DyceThe 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]


Clavell later said "my feeling is the film failed because Forbes took away the story thread and made it a composite of character studies."[2]

See also


  1. Crowther, Bosley. "Adaptation of Novel by Clavell Has Premiere". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  2. JAMES CLAVELL: Filmdom's Do-It-Yourselfer Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 4 Apr 1969: h13.
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