Friday, May 6, 2011

King Rat

Both Steve McQueen and Paul Newman turned down the lead in this intriguing film.


George Segal portrays Corporal King. King is an American POW in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War Two. The camp has no fences nor wires. Just an impenetrable jungle from which there is no escape. Cpl. King decides to try to make the best of a horrific situation. He is a street hustler extraordinaire and he uses those skills to obtain small luxuries. Like food. King Rat focuses upon the trials of life within a POW camp.

King finds he has not one, but two enemies. The Japanese guards are one, but the jealous British prisoners within the camp also become a source of difficulty. Most of the camp is British and they prefer a more traditional view of relations with the Japanese. King is always "working the angle" to find a way to make life more bearable. Many other prisoners become more of an obstacle than the guards themselves. With the British prisoners on one-side and the Japanese guards on the other, King must walk a fine line between them if he is to survive.

This film also has a secondary storyline about the role of class in our society. Most of the British POWs are officers of fine breeding while King is an enlisted man of a questionable background. Some of the "upper-crust" British feel it is beneath them to work with someone like Cpl. King, let alone be bested or dependent upon him. This class-warfare intrigue is still in question today. Are some people better than others because of who they are? Rich vs. poor, male vs. female, white vs. black, educated vs. street smarts are all still issues plaguing humanity.


This film is based upon a best-selling novel by James Clavell. Clavell spent much of his literary life writing a series of best-selling novels about Asia and its interaction with the West. From 'Shogun' to 'Noble House' to 'Gai-Jin' all of Clavell's novels about Asia are intriguing. The mini-series based upon 'Shogun', starring Richard Chamberlin and Toshiro Mifune, is still one of my favorite television events. And this novel is one of his best.

Whether you like intense drama or prefer intellectual action, King Rat will provide some enjoyable entertainment. Upon viewing please keep one question in the back of your mind. If you were in a similar situation, would make a deal for food or would you starve for principle and honor?

Filmed in 1965, directed by Bryan Forbes, written by Forbes from the novel by James Clavell, starring George Segal, John Mills, Tom Courtenay, James Fox and Denholm Elliott.

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