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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
King Rat (1965)

"No....He stopped believing in the pigheaded, totally unreasonable will not to die. There's a difference, you know."
- Dr. Kennedy (James Donald)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 05, 2003

Stars: George Segal, Tom Courtenay, James Fox, Denholm Elliott
Other Stars: Todd Armstrong, Patrick O'Neal, James Donald, John Mills, Leonard Rossiter, Richard Dawson
Director: Bryan Forbes

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:14m:25s
Release Date: May 06, 2003
UPC: 043396100558
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-B D

DVD Review

While The Bridge on the River Kwai examined Japanese POW camps on a rather epic scale, King Rat (based on the novel by James "Shogun" Clavell) takes a more intimate and desperate look at the existence of the prisoners in such a camp. And the word "existence" is used advisedly; as the prologue indicates, the prisoners can hardly be said to be living in the camp. But there are always some who find a way....

The film takes place in Changi camp, in Singapore, during the last year of the war. American corporal King (George Segal) is in fact living like a king, primarily through the black market but also by running scams on the officers and other inmates of the camp. He even has a retinue, including Tex (Todd Armstrong) and Max (Patrick O'Neal). King's nemesis it the British martinent Lt. Grey (Tom Courtenay), who suspects King's misconduct but finds himself stymied at proving anything. Young British soldier Peter Marlowe (James Fox, best known as the lead in Roeg's Performance a couple years later) at first resists King's influence but eventually falls under his sway. But as the soldiers learn the war is near its end, King and Marlowe become increasingly desperate to raise large amounts of cash in order to secure their safety through bribery, fearing that they'll be slaughtered by their captors before they can be rescued.

Although the description seems to have a bit of the lightheartedness of Mister Roberts to it, the film really has almost no lightness beyond the central scam of King to raise rats and palm them off as a native delicacy, mouse deer. The rest of the film is almost a nonstop barrage of grim events such as prisoners and officers stealing rations and shorting their compatriots, dooming them to starvation and disease. Equally ugly is the secret retribution exacted by the prisoners when they learn of such betrayal. Making matters worse are harassments by both the Japanese captors and the British officers determined to maintain order in the camp even at the cost of breaking the will of the prisoners.

Grey as portrayed by Courtenay is humorless and intense nearly to a fault. He constantly is a powderkeg ready to go off at either King and Marlowe. Segal, in his first starring role, does a fine job, even if he is occasionally a bit smarmy. John Mills has a notable small supporting role as the corrupt leader of the British officers, Smedley-Taylor, conveying a weariness and impatience with Grey's methods as well as a sense of quiet embarrassment at his own involvements in the black market.

The conclusion of the film is rather enigmatic and open to interpretation. But it's clear that by the finale everything has changed completely. Unlike most war movies, there's hardly a gun fired here; those seeking action and heroism will be well advised to look elsewhere. But the picture does make for a fine drama about men in extremis, and as such is recommended.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen black & white picture is generally acceptable. The black levels are good with plenty of shadow detail as well as general detail. Textures generally look quite realistic, although the total impression is rather spoiled by the heavy grain. Although the grittiness of the grain is probably intentional, the transfer doesn't do a very good job of rendering the grain, which results in a rather sparkly appearance to the pcitre. There is a little insignificant ringing present at times. The title sequence and the reel changes have a little frame damage, but the feature as a whole is derived from a good quality print otherwise.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono sounds mediocre, with a slightly warbly quality to the main title music. Mild hiss is present during the film, but it's not too distracting. Dialogue is generally clean, although the British soldiers are occasionally difficult to understand. The sound design, with the omnipresent jungle sounds, does help keep the atmosphere of the film highly oppressive; while I'm not usually one in favor of remixing mono tracks for multichannel presentation, this could have made quite an impressive surround mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring From Here to Eternity, The Guns of Navarone
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:13s

Extras Review: Columbia doesn't give this picture much respect, omitting the trailer for the feature and slapping on nonanamorphic trailers for three WWII pictures on DVD. Chaptering is the standard Columbia 28 stops, which is just adequate for a lengthy film such as this one.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Clavell's grim POW drama comes to DVD in an okay transfer but without any significant extras.


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