King Rat—A Movie Not Based On A Lie Like The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

20 Jun

Recently, my claim that Black Hawk Down is the best war movie ever was challenged by a regular visitor to the site who asked if anyone would remember BHD after a number of years had passed, while pointing to The Bridge Over the River Kwai and The Great Escape as examples of “better” war movies, ones that have stood the test of time.  Obviously, we can not know how long people will remember BHD, but we can look at a movie that is head and shoulders above both The Great Escape and The Bridge Over the River Kwai and yet is not as well remembered:  It is King Rat.

King Rat (1965) stars a young George Segal who plays “Corporal King” AKA the King Rat.  King Rat is based on a 1962 novel by J.B. Clavell.  Set during World War II, Clavell’s novel describes the struggle for the survival of British, Australian, and American prisoners of war in a Japanese camp in Singapore—a description well-informed by Clavell’s own three-year experience as a POW in the notorious Changi Prison camp.  Peter Marlowe, a significant character, is based upon Clavell’s younger self.  Even some of the actors in King Rat were POWs in the World War II.  Denholm Elliott, (who played Lt. G.D. Larkin) while serving in the RAF, was shot down and taken prisoner by the Nazis.

These P.O.W.’s were given nothing by the Japanese other than filthy huts to live in and the bare minimum of food needed to prevent starvation.  Officers who had been accustomed to native servants providing them with freshly- laundered uniforms daily were reduced to wearing rags and homemade shoes.  For most, the chief concern is obtaining enough food to stay alive from day to day and avoiding disease or injury, since nearly no medical care is available.  But, not so for King, who is well fed and struts around in a uniform that looks like it came straight from the dry cleaners.

Corporal King, not a very likable character, becomes “King” of the black market/underground economy, trading with the enemy for food, cigarettes, currency, etc.  As the “richest” man in the camp, Segal becomes the most powerful prisoner, controlling even the highest ranking officers through his economic muscle and having virtually everyone on his payroll, except one, seemingly incorruptible British Provost, Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay).  Grey has only contempt for the American and does his best to bring him down, but with no success.

Eventually, the camp commandant informs the prisoners that the Japanese have surrendered and that the war is over.  After overcoming their shock and disbelief, the prisoners celebrate – all except King, who realizes that he is no longer the unquestioned (if unofficial) ruler of the camp.

Unfortunately, King Rat does not appear on any popular “top” lists of movies must-sees.  In fact, the reason I watched it was because I was forced to.  In my high school economics class, Dr. Kardsky made us watch the movie as an example of how scarcity affects economic markets that are virtually unregulated.  Now, having seen the movie several more times over the years, I have only grown to appreciate it further.  So. if you are interested in a not-so-glamorous account of soldiers in the war of the century, do take a very worthwhile look at King Rat.

By the way, the Rat in the movie’s title “King Rat” is revealed at the end of the film when King feeds his fellow prisoners rat meat, for which they are grateful.


Posted by on June 20, 2010 in Movie Reviews


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52 responses to “King Rat—A Movie Not Based On A Lie Like The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

  1. DiegoTwenty

    June 21, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Wow…I have been looking this video so long.And i founded it here.very thank you!!


    • jpfmovies

      June 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

      Excellent–this film is underrated and under appreciated–if you would like a digital version I may be able to help.


      • SSampson

        November 25, 2017 at 11:41 pm

        Stalag 17 – 1953 – While I am sure the social environment/structure inside POW camps in many ways was similar… it seems to me that there were numerous elements in King Rat that would seem plagiarized … (albeit from the Pacific, not European theatre experience) – That is not an accusation, just an observation perhaps illuminated by said similar experiences… Of course there are also unique elements as well …..

        As for BHD … I wouldn’t have that in my top 100 … It is fictionalized truth of course – otherwise we’d refer to it as a documentary :-) … While not all true stories are ‘good’, they can also be destroyed by silliness of artistic license – Either follow the truth 100% or don’t pretend it is what it isn’t

        Thin Red Line – Letters from Iwo Jima are two recently made movies that are 10 times better than BHD – and they don’t try to be something they aren’t

        Older…. Paths of Glory – as story of truths, but not a true story ….

        In the middle – Das Boot ….

        And to be controversial …. Apocalypse Now … (for reasons that perhaps are more personal in a sense … but it is more for the larger meaning perhaps – the redux version does add to that meaning… of course that conflict was much more confused in nature than those before and after in many ways… the point)


  2. dr h

    June 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I think we should divide all movies not only the war movies into(a)historical dramas with artistic merit and authenticity, (b)entertaining ones that rely on stretching the laws of physics and ballistics— their historical inaccuracies forgiven as artistic license and lastly (c) conceptual , ones that are using war or some other situation merely as a backdrop to convey a deeper meaning.
    .BHD TRUMPS IN THE FIRST CATEGORY. Great escape is the king of second category while The Bridge, letter from IWO JIMA, Platoon and Apocalyse Now fit the latter kind of war movies. Funny war movies like operation petticoat are the fourth kind that I had almost overlooked.
    Finally although desirable intellectual honesty was never a defining trait with showbiz, the tradition goes as far as Shakespeare who stole several ideas from a little remembered playwright called John Marlowe.


    • jpfmovies

      June 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

      Well that is all fine and good, but I think you are merely covering up for what was an obvious blunder by claiming that Bridge of the River Kwai crap was even in the same sentence as BHD.


  3. Silver Emulsion

    June 21, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Nice review! Never seen this one but I’ve always heard good things.

    I didn’t know Denholm Elliot was a real POW! Wow.


    • jpfmovies

      June 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm

      You bet he was, only giving the movie that much more credibility than that Bridge Over the Kwai fantasy Dr. H was talking about!


  4. dr h

    June 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    JP,your support for BHD and your repulsion forTHE BRIDGE OVER– calls for seious debate and not just name calling.
    The bridge was loosely based on facts and was not rewriting history like Inglorious Basterds nor was it claiming authenticity like BHD. It was entirely fictional account based upon certain French Officers who actually did collaborate with THE JAPANESE.
    Two bridges in Burma were actually bulit with POW labor.
    On the other hand BHD is being celebrated as the war movies last hope and the most authentic account of what happened in Somalia.
    One of the actors Brenden Sextorn said in 2002 that the film had been heavily edited to appease American viewers and history was distorted. The role of UN forces mainly from Pakistan and Malaysia was minimized although several died rescueing the US soldiers and also several questions went unanswered. ” Somalis wered portrayed as if they dont know whats going on, as ifthey are trying to kill the amaericans because they like all ‘ evil- doers–‘ will do anything to bite the hand that feeds them.”


  5. dr h

    June 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Another fact, the character played by EWEN MC GREGOR was based upon an officer whose name was changed at the last moment from the book at the behest of the powers that be simply because he is serving a 30 yr sentence for sexually assaulting his own daughter.
    Also a soldier is shown reading John Grishams’ The Client. The only trouble is that the book was released 2 yrs later.


  6. dr h

    June 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    We should end this debate now. I guess we are all captive of our prejudices.


  7. dr h

    June 24, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    OK, have it your way. The gloves are off.


    • jpfmovies

      June 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      That is the only way I roll.


      • Bonnie

        July 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm

        Ha! I hate to mix metaphors, but your bark is worse than your bite. And I mean both of you!!


  8. dr h

    June 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    The bridge was ranked as the 13th all time great movie by the academy– now I wonder where BHD would rank–13 th most hyped– 20th most preposterous— 5th best propaganda movie– NO WAIT, THEY’LL IGNORE IT.


  9. dr h

    June 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Now that both sides have been heard, it is upto the jury to decide. The forum is open for all readers as always to comment on what was an honest difference of opinion between two friends.


    • Bonnie

      July 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      Well, while you are both waiting for the jury to decide on this one, why don’t you check out this crazy Digg story (hey, there’s a military connection):

      Do you think they are serious or just trying to be funny?


    • Silver Emulsion

      July 4, 2010 at 8:27 am

      For me, both films are bettered by Saving Private Ryan. I’m not big on David Lean or Ridley Scott, but they’re both movies I’ve thought I should re-watch at some point.


      • jpfmovies

        July 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm

        You know I am not much of a Ridley Scott man my self but damn did he hit it straight on with BHD.


      • Silver Emulsion

        July 4, 2010 at 9:22 pm

        I’ll have to watch BHD again. I didn’t like it at the time because of its lack of story, but I think I would like it more now.

        I think I’d need to see David Lean’s films on the big screen to fully appreciate them. They seem to lose a lot without the epic scope of the wide screen.


  10. dr h

    July 1, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    No, Bonnie, You girls simply don’t get it. When we guys are insulting each other we are actually bonding with each other.


    • jpfmovies

      July 1, 2010 at 8:57 pm

      The Real Question Here is When is Jude Going to Review Blade Runner?


  11. dr h

    July 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    All of us hope that you are ok, Jude. Let us know how you are.


  12. Bob

    September 24, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Another ( 2 ) just as good movie as King Rat in the same time frame of history is MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE and TO END ALL WARS. The latter a more actual portrayal of the building of the railroad depicted in “bridge OTRK


    • jpfmovies

      September 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm

      I’ll take a look at To End All Wars.


  13. Robert Sullivan

    February 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Nice writeup on King Rat. If you get a chance to listen to the audio version, it is fantastic. Somehow the actor does all the voices – Aussies, Brits, Americans, Japs, Chinese.

    “the Rat in the movie’s title “King Rat” is revealed at the end of the film when King feeds his fellow prisoners rat meat, for which they are grateful”

    One minor, but important (I think), correction: The King and his fellow farmers all agreed to sell the rat meat only to officers. Lots of interesting topics in the book, one of Clavell’s best I think.


    • jpfmovies

      February 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      That is a correct observation that I missed. I’ve never heard to the audio version and didn’t know until recently that it was based on the the author that wrote Shogun–like I said I saw this movie in my highschool economics class to observe scarcity—but if the book is 1/2 has good as shogun then I might give it a try. Thanks for the correction–good catch my man!


  14. Anonymous

    February 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    a bridge too far and catch 22 are both good movies


    • jpfmovies

      February 20, 2014 at 11:23 pm

      Of course they are, but my point is that when you watch a bridge too far for example, all of the women are exotic looking wearing colorful robes and while the men are wearing tattered clothing it is a completely mis-characterized portrayal of what things were like. The people there were infested with disease, starving and routinely tortured. You would think that someone came away from a tough day-camp not the true death march it really was. Look for instance at the POW’s in King Rat, that is more accurate of the suffering these people went through but minimizes the cruelty inflicted by the Japanese army. That is my point, Black Hawk Down is probably as close to what it was like to be on the ground in war situations.


  15. jack909

    February 25, 2014 at 12:37 am

    My girlfriend in Vietnam loved rat meat, but only if it was a country rat. She believed that city rats did not taste good. Dogs were also commonly eaten, but only in the north of Vietnam.


    • jpfmovies

      February 25, 2014 at 3:28 am

      Oh my goodness. I had heard about dogs being eaten several south Asian countries as well as China, but never rats. Were they afraid of catching one of the many diseases rats can carry?


  16. bmcp4tr01

    May 10, 2014 at 5:43 am

    Watched KR on TCM recently. Astonishingly good even if Forbes was inordinately influenced by French nouvelle vague. By all accounts Newman & McQueen turned down the King role but Segal is outstanding as is all the American ensemble playing. The Courtney role is perhaps lost on American audiences but the scenes where he exposes corruption amongst the British officer class should be understood by everyone although I fear this too is not fully grasped by contemporary audiences.


    • jpfmovies

      May 15, 2014 at 7:38 am

      An excellent summary of the classic movie I forgot where I put on this site, but one of the actors in the movie actually discussed it unsolicited here at jpfmovies. take a few minutes and explore the site and you find his comments which are fascinating.


  17. danyulengelke

    July 11, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Bryan Forbes Friday at

    Keep up the good work!


  18. varangia

    February 21, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    A war movie should not have to be a documentary. Who cares if it’s based on actual events or not. As long as it is plausible, that’s the only criteria.

    I don’t much care for modern war movies. Those soldiers are all volunteers, and in some respect, mercenaries, since they joined for money and benefits. The older movies are much grimmer – those soldiers were either drafted or had to join, and fought for nations in existential struggles.


  19. Tony Golding

    December 21, 2016 at 8:12 am

    Having watched King Rat several times I eventually realised another layer to the hypocritical class warfare. There’s a scene where the King is negotiating with the Australian over the arm saving drugs . The aussy says ” us kind have to stick together” by that I think he was referring to the fact that they were Jewish, something that the status hungry MP must have suspected. So we have these life saving entrepreneurs operating within a corrupt system, not unlike a typical Capilalist state. But the tragedy for the King is that he finds it difficult to trust the friendship of upper class Englishman , maybe because of antisemitism whatever, you are encouraged to examine your own attitudes and this is what makes it an exceptional underrated movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jpfmovies

      March 20, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      I must admit this is a perspective I never saw in the film. Indeed a new layer that I will think of when I watch the film next. The thing is I am not sure that the King trusted anyone. I mean his “friend” was essentially saved so that the King could go through with the diamond transaction. But a very astute and good insight into what I believe is a marvelous story.


      • Tony Golding

        December 11, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        I recently checked out the script at 116 minutes where King is making a deal over supplying cages for the rats he says “ ok we got a deal, the Ausie replies “ there’s nothing like dealing with your own kind “ the Bravery of adding this to the overal story marks this movie out as special I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Anonymous

    January 9, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Sorry, your a bit mistaken. Corporal King didn’t feed his mates rat meat but other kinds of meat. (See movie). The rat meat was reserved – at a high price – for the corrupt and hated officers, or brass. I’ve read the book several times and it’s toward the end of the book. Also the rat is a simile for the ‘food’ they raise which represents the social situation in the camp which is likened to a disgusting rat colony.

    A movie and book buff’

    Liked by 1 person

    • jpfmovies

      March 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Yes an actual cast member who commented on the film told me that and it was something I did miss in my review though I do remember it from the film.


  21. Brian

    February 5, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    I’m little late to the party but I consider King Rat the best of the POW movies, with only Stalag 17 coming close. They also have similar themes, where the key character is a “wheeler and dealer” who lives better than his fellow prsoners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jpfmovies

      March 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Yes, I agree totally. I am not sure if you have seen the comment which was actually from one of the cast members of the movie. I encourage you to look at it.


  22. Scott Leahy

    November 7, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    By far, George Segal’s best performance. A movie about American ingenuity and the capitalist system. A realistic expose about British snobbery.



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