The Fox and Rat
Following the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese the Allied prisoners of war found themselves in Changi prison, a unique home for the POWs as with no where to escape to there are no walls or fences to keep them in. But like most prison camps there are those such as Lt. Robin Grey (Tom Courtenay) who wants to enforce discipline and order on those who find themselves there. And that means American Cpl. King (George Segal) is his enemy as whilst he can never prove it he knows that King is trading with the Japanese and breaking the prison rules so that he can live in a semi state of luxury compared to the other prisoners. One of those on King's side is Lt. Peter Marlowe (James Fox), an upper class British officer who is intrigued by the way King operates and flouts the rules knowing full well it would only take one slip for everything to come crashing down.
I believe that Bryan Forbes was under rated as an actor, writer and director with his contributions to British cinema over the years never garnering the high praise they truly deserved. Take for example "King Rat", a prisoner of war movie which works on every single level yet when you ask someone to name a prisoner of war movie I doubt they would come up with it despite those who have seen it rating it highly.
Now in fairness "King Rat" is not your typical prisoner of war movie as this isn't about the spirit of the men to keep going in the face of adversity or there secretive machinations to escape. Nope this is a prisoner of war movie about an American hustler who is doing what he can to get by and not live in squalor like others whilst you have Lt. Robin Grey trying to maintain order and bring his operation down. But his desire to bring him down borders on obsession which makes this very different to what you might expect whilst still painting a picture of life in a prisoner of war camp where every grain of rice matters.
But as I said "King Rat" works on all levels and this unfolding drama is completely fascinating as we watch how King goes about his business, coming up with various schemes including breeding rats for sale and involving people high up the ranks in his operations to protect himself. And it is great writing as we get various elements of drama but drama which leads to humour including a scene involving a dog which has to be killed. I won't go in to too much detail as the writing is so good it never loses you especially combined with the crisp cinematography which makes this a visually rich movie which comes to life in black & white.
But something else Forbes brings to a movie is his friends and "King Rat" has several recognizable British stars from Tom Courtenay and James Fox down to Leonard Rossiter. But these actors all deliver brilliant performances with Courtenay bringing the obsession to the screen of his character, breathless, weak but hell bent on making sure King gets his. On the subject of King, George Segal brings plenty of hustle to the character to make him entertaining and likeable despite being a law breaker who looks out for himself. Saying that the friendship which forms between King and Marlowe works well with there being subtle comedy between Segal and Fox who constantly makes you smile.
What this all boils down to is that "King Rat" is a great prisoner of war movie with a very different angle to so many other prisoner of war movies. The only thing wrong is that it isn't better known as it is captivating from start to finish with some incredibly powerful scenes.