[box cover]

King Rat

George Segal plays a streetwise G.I. making the most of his imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp in 1965's King Rat, based on a novel by James Clavell. As Corporal King, Segal swaggers and schemes, running his little corner of the black market with help from a ragtag group of soldiers willing to do anything for a few bucks. King befriends Brit officer Peter Marlowe (James Fox), who speaks the local language and can translate for King when he sells off watches and jewelry for other desperate prisoners (for a sizable fee, of course). The two also share a mutual loathing of the camp's provost, petty tyrant Lt. Grey (Tom Courtenay), whose loathing of King borders on the pathological. The prisoners in King Rat aren't plotting to make a run for it, a la The Great Escape — it's established early in the film that such is not an option, as there's literally nowhere for escapees from the Singapore camp to go. The movie instead explores the day-to-day life of these beaten-down men, starving and sick, as they scrape together the best sort of life they can under the circumstances. Sometimes the results are heart-wrenching, like when one prisoner is ordered to put down his beloved pet dog because it killed another man's chicken. But many scenes are very funny — like the resulting, secret meal King serves those closest to him, featuring delicious fresh meat that turns out to be (you guessed it) the poor, doomed dog. Bryan Forbes (The Wrong Box, The Stepford Wives) directed from his screenplay based on Clavell's book (which was inspired by Clavell's own experiences in a POW camp), painstakingly portraying a humid jungle-hell, with every man constantly drenched in sweat and the pervasive sound of buzzing flies adding a tense counterpoint to virtually every scene. The cast is remarkable, as well — in addition to Segal, Fox, and Courtenay, there's Patrick O'Neal as Top Sergeant Max, a whipped dog of a man who's reduced to serving as Cpl. King's flunky, and Denholm Elliott as a top British officer who turns a blind eye to King's machinations. Comparisons will be made to Bridge on the River Kwai and even Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (in which John Malkovich played a character similar to Segal's Cpl. King), but King Rat easily ranks among the best of all prisoner-of-war films. Columbia TriStar's DVD release offers a digitally remastered anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that's very good, with deep blacks and a full range of rich grays. The monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is clean as well, doing justice to all those buzzing flies, as well as James Barry's understated, dignified score. Available subtitles include Japanese and English, and trailers for Bridge on the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity, and The Guns of Navarone also are on board. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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