King Rat (1965) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Fast-taking wheeler-dealer Corporal King (George Segal), in a Malaysian P.O.W. camp during World War II, uses bribery and larceny to take de facto control of the camp from his senior officers.

  • When Singapore surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, the Allied P.O.W.s, mostly British, but including a few Americans, were incarcerated in Changi prison. This was a P.O.W. camp like no other. There were no walls or barbed-wire fences, for the simple reason that there was no place for the prisoners to which to escape. Included among the prisoners is the American Corporal King (George Segal), a wheeler-dealer who has managed to established a pretty good life for himself in the camp. While most of the prisoners are near starvation and have uniforms that are in tatters, King eats well and and has crisp clean clothes to wear every day. His nemesis is Lieutenant Robin Grey (Sir Tom Courtenay), the camp Provost who attempts to keep good order and discipline. He knows that King is breaking camp rules by bartering with the Japanese, but can't quite get the evidence he needs to stop him. King soon forms a friendship with Lieutenant Peter Marlowe (James Fox), an upper class British officer who is fascinated with King's style and no-rules approach to life. As the story develops, it reveals the hypocrisy of the British class system and for King, the fact that his position in Changi's "society" is tenuous as best.

  • The Japanese prisoner-of-war camp Changi in Singapore, which houses Allied P.O.W.s, is a living hell. The great mass of P.O.W.s are living at a sub-human subsistence level. U.S. Army Corporal King (George Segal) has been living up to his surname, through his control of the camp's black market, and by scamming the officers and other P.O.W.s. King has a facility for making deals with the Japanese to obtain the contraband he sells to the P.O.W.s. His nemesis is British Lieutenant Robin Grey (Sir Tom Courtenay), the camp Provost Marshal, a humorless, intense martinet who survives through his strict adherence to the British articles of war, which forbid collaboration with the enemy. He is suspicious of King, and is determined to catch him and bring him to justice. The humorless Grey is an upright, uptight moral prig who has been as badly damaged psychologically as any of the other P.O.W.s. The high-living King befriends a genteel young British airman, Peter Marlowe (James Fox), who at first, resists his blandishments, and then succumbs, to his charm. The P.O.W.s become aware that the war is drawing to its end, and King and Marlowe grow concerned that the brutal Japanese guards may slaughter the prisoners before they can be liberated. King and Marlowe are determined to raise a large amount of money to buy their freedom by bribing their captors. One of the schemes that King devises is to sell the meat of mouse deer, a native delicacy, to sell to the high-ranking P.O.W. officers. Conditions are so desperate in the camp, that P.O.W.s are stealing rations form one another in order to stave off starvation. This is another one of King's scams, as the "mouse deer" meat is actually from rats, the breeding stock for which have been the rats that have fed off the corpses of dead P.O.W.s. The desperate situation in the camp is exacerbated by the brutality of the Japanese guards, and by the senior British officers' predilection for breaking the will of the P.O.W.s in order to maintain camp discipline. Resistance, thus, is futile, and with no other outlet, the animosity of the P.O.W.s has to be channelled against each other. It becomes quite apparent that, aside from Lieutenant Grey and the dead, everyone in the camp is corrupt. Corporal King merely stands out, as he is Jack-the-Lad, The King-of-the-Hill, King of the Camp, King Rat.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • George Segal plays Corporal King, an American soldier in a Japanese prison camp who manages all the black market operations amongst the enforced holding of a group of English and Americans. His demeanor and bearing stand out in contrast to the rag tag prisoners he shares the camp with in part because of his willingness to ostensibly advance on the needs of others. He is constantly scrutinized by Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay), the camp police chief, as he has gotten reports that King has robbed fellow prisoners in a poker game. It is clear that King takes pleasure in living on what would be considered a clear example of the American Capitalist version of supply and demand. He seeks ways to increase his organization by recruiting talented men like Peter Marlowe (James Fox), an English soldier who speaks fluent Malay, but refuses King's offering of money for his services. Marlowe attempts to live by a code that bonds men in a way that transcends any financial gain, and in fact considers King an actual friend because he and the American are interned together under Japanese rule. King extends his operation to include trading valuables to the Japanese and breeding rats to sell as food to the officers as a delicacy, activities that Marlowe is happy to aid in because of the smart commercial way that the schemes are launched. The ability to gain valuable items including medical supplies becomes important when Marlowe injures himself and faces serious physical danger. As Lieutenant Grey closes in to mete out the camp law enforcement, his code of conduct conflicts with Marlowe, his cabin mate. Theirs is a philosophy differing slightly and both based on survival with the most reaffirming respect for fellow man they can develop under these war conditions. As Grey attempts to arrest King and Marlowe for their criminal activity it becomes clear that the commanding officers live by a fractured value system.

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