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"King Rat"


rayban
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Bryan Forbes - 1965 - life in a Japanese prison camp during World War II - it is difficult to sit through this film - the misery is so intense, so palpable - but, given the subject-mater, what else could it be? -

however, a question -

is there a homosexual attraction between Corporal King (George Segal) and Marlowe (James Fox)?

the film doesn't push it, but it is certainly there -

at the end, when King rides off in the Army truck without saying goodbye to Marlowe -

and Marlowe runs after him to say goodbye -

I would say that King is obviously in denial of what has happened with the both of them -

Marlowe is brave enough to acknowledge it -

King cannot -

kingrat1.jpg

prod-db-coleytown-production-columbia-pi

 

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There is plenty of homosexuality in the source novel written by James Clavell, I can tell you that much. But nothing specific between King and Marlowe. Nothing physical happens between them.

There's a prominent subplot which never made it into the film. Its about a slimly-built young British soldier who survives by patronage of his body; and then when the camp hosts a variety revue he wears drag to perform a song number, he's assaulted (attempted rape) after the show and commits suicide. But that's a more blatant storyline found only in the novel.

As far as King and Marlowe, there's certainly a deep affinity and bonding between these two primary characters in the book (and the movie), but in the source material, its really more about their innocent friendship which Clavell focuses on.

King likes Marlowe for several reasons: his pride, his honesty, his loyalty. Remember, King has no other friends. Everyone 'uses' him and he 'uses' everyone.

In the movie (and book), practically every male character is posed in a symbiotic relationship with one of their fellows. The adaptation is really a fine flick, all sorts of insights on the table.

In the book, we learn that King is a rabid conservative capitalist and he and Marlowe often argue politics.

One other very fun episode is how the men in King's tent capture a massive rat burrowing in the dirt below their beds. King then finds a mate for it and they start farming rat meat and selling it to the guards for favors. King has enough solidarity not to offer rat meat to any of his fellow POWs except when one of their officers (whom they all despise) barters with King for food, he sneeringly offers it to him for free --without stating its origin --and everyone guffaws behind their hands watching their superior feast on rat haunch. Pretty hilarious.

In the final scene when Marlowe runs after the truck which is carrying King off, I take it exactly as Clavell (and I believe, Forbes) intended it: friendship. King is about to return to his life of sour self-interested cynicism and he doesn't want to believe that Marlowe ever had any genuine regard for him. Marlowe insists--in their last conversation together--that King is wrong. He has made one very firm, loyal, lasting friend in him.

 

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Thanks so much, I honestly believe that the relationship between King and Marlowe can be interpreted in two ways - as an underlying homosexual attraction and as a genuine friendship.

Perhaps Forbes is leaning toward the latter.

But the casting of James Fox gives the relationship a homoerotic tinge. 

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I can't contradict you if that's what you discern in the film. If it's valid for you that's all you need to say and I respect it.

This may interest you though: since I've been thinking about the book all day in response to your inquiry about it, I now remember one further point about the soldier I mentioned above. If I recall correctly, this effeminate lad was very tortured and distraught all through the book and the reason for it was that he had served in the same outfit as Marlowe and had always been interested in him; however Marlowe had always rejected his interest.

I can't speak to the exact reasons why Clavell framed his story the way he did, and I don't know if there's ever been any analysis of its themes. Seems to me Clavell wanted to treat issues of physical attraction separately from issues of pure friendship. But that's merely a guess from me.

And of course, who knows how Brian Forbes might have wanted to shade different aspects of meaning when he took up the adaptation. It could very well be just as you describe.

In any case I've always found it a fascinating movie (we haven't even mentioned Tom Courtenay or Patrick O'Neal, and is John Mills also in it? I like George Segal in just about any role and this was a strong performance for him).

Due to all this, I was motivated enough to investigate the novel...taken together, book + film in this case, comprise a very fine dual product. Very glad to see it mentioned in this forum.

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I might have a kind of fascination for POW camp movies. It brings out a little sadism in me, perhaps. But dang, just imagine being forced to subside on literally just 1 cup of rice per day. 1 cup! Hunger is the most powerful force known to man.

The latrine arrangements as well, did you notice them? Not much emphasized in the film. But it was simply an open field with 'honey holes' dug into the ground, absolutely no privacy, you just trudge out there and squat down in full view of everyone. Sometimes sit there a long time if suffering dysentery.

And of course when Tom Courtenay's lower-class corporal character discovers that the three quartermasters were tampering with rice ration, he can't save them from the justice dealt out by the rest of the POWs. One morning, the dawn greets the sight of three men stuffed headfirst down three honey-holes out in that field. Gag!

Forbes did a good job with the sequence about how the pet dog had to be killed. And big, tall, Patrick O'Neal, dressed in rags, (a sergeant) forced to serve King, (a private) and being humiliated the whole film long, suddenly goes insane when King finally has no power over him any longer. Marvelous.

Tom Courtenay almost steals the film though. So intense, that great actor.

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13 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I can't contradict you if that's what you discern in the film. If it's valid for you that's all you need to say and I respect it.

This may interest you though: since I've been thinking about the book all day in response to your inquiry about it, I now remember one further point about the soldier I mentioned above. If I recall correctly, this effeminate lad was very tortured and distraught all through the book and the reason for it was that he had served in the same outfit as Marlowe and had always been interested in him; however Marlowe had always rejected his interest.

I can't speak to the exact reasons why Clavell framed his story the way he did, and I don't know if there's ever been any analysis of its themes. Seems to me Clavell wanted to treat issues of physical attraction separately from issues of pure friendship. But that's merely a guess from me.

And of course, who knows how Brian Forbes might have wanted to shade different aspects of meaning when he took up the adaptation. It could very well be just as you describe.

In any case I've always found it a fascinating movie (we haven't even mentioned Tom Courtenay or Patrick O'Neal, and is John Mills also in it? I like George Segal in just about any role and this was a strong performance for him).

Due to all this, I was motivated enough to investigate the novel...taken together, book + film in this case, comprise a very fine dual product. Very glad to see it mentioned in this forum.

I agree, the material is probably much more complex than is immediately apparent.

Obviously, the book had much more than the film version.

But genuine friendship between men, especially in these reduced circumstances, is surely "a given".

I do wish that the effeminate soldier had made it into the movie version.

Nevertheless, at the end, I did feel a certain deep ache - for what might've been possible for two men - either genuine love or genuine friendship.

As you know, I lean toward the former conception.

Yes, that move cast is terrific - Patrick O'Neal in a very atypical role and Tom Courtenay about as "uptight" and "dogmatic" as one can get.

I got an extra-special thrill with John Mills and Richard Dawson.

The ugliness of this film is so very "real" - has the POW experience ever been rendered in such a realistic way - not even "Stalag 17" comes close.

"Kapo"with Susan Strasberg is a close second, I think.

 

 

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12 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I might have a kind of fascination for POW camp movies. It brings out a little sadism in me, perhaps. But dang, just imagine being forced to subside on literally just 1 cup of rice per day. 1 cup! Hunger is the most powerful force known to man.

The latrine arrangements as well, did you notice them? Not much emphasized in the film. But it was simply an open field with 'honey holes' dug into the ground, absolutely no privacy, you just trudge out there and squat down in full view of everyone. Sometimes sit there a long time if suffering dysentery.

And of course when Tom Courtenay's lower-class corporal character discovers that the three quartermasters were tampering with rice ration, he can't save them from the justice dealt out by the rest of the POWs. One morning, the dawn greets the sight of three men stuffed headfirst down three honey-holes out in that field. Gag!

Forbes did a good job with the sequence about how the pet dog had to be killed. And big, tall, Patrick O'Neal, dressed in rags, (a sergeant) forced to serve King, (a private) and being humiliated the whole film long, suddenly goes insane when King finally has no power over him any longer. Marvelous.

Tom Courtenay almost steals the film though. So intense, that great actor.

Two sequences - the soldiers eating the dog meat and enjoying it - and Patrick O'Neal going beserk - are unforgettable.

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Certainly the book is still around. Its a very rewarding read.

Yes I had seen most parts of the film a few times before reading the source. It only slowly dawned on me --from watching the flick on TV--how wonderful the material was. Then I looked up the author and gobbled up the book. Clavell has written a few screenplays himself but this early novel of his is reliable because its was long before he went commercial with things like 'Sho-Gun'.

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I think there are two versions of the novel King Rat. The original published version 1962, left out the women's stories the girlfriends, mothers, and wives of the men in the camp. A complete version of the manuscript published in 1999 includes their stories.

On a side note during an interview I saw with James Clavell quite a while ago, he mentioned that he always carried a can of sardines around with him as a reminder of Changi, and told the audience that one can of sardines stretched out could flavor an awful lot of rice.

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47 minutes ago, Hibi said:

George Segal was one of the top leading men in the late 60s early 70s. Then he pulled out of 10 and it went south quickly. It never recovered. I don't know what happened there.

When Frank Sinatra turned the role down, Columbia Pictures gave it to new-comer, George Segal.  

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1 hour ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Certainly the book is still around. Its a very rewarding read.

Yes I had seen most parts of the film a few times before reading the source. It only slowly dawned on me --from watching the flick on TV--how wonderful the material was. Then I looked up the author and gobbled up the book. Clavell has written a few screenplays himself but this early novel of his is reliable because its was long before he went commercial with things like 'Sho-Gun'.

It seems like King Rat could certainly be redone as a miniseries, and go more in-depth like Shogun did.

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Aye. That indeed may be the chief merit of the mini-series format; all I intended to say is that I found 'Sho-Gun' more on the 'glossy' and 'glam' side.

There's been a few other good series on such harsh camps, the ones which come to mind for me are ones from BBC. What was the name of that one they did...very well received...oh yea, 'TENKU'. Ever seen?

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What I like about Segal is the variety of roles he appeared in. In some flicks he is brutal and tough: 'Invitation to a Gunfight'...'King Rat'...'Terminal Man'...'Quiller Memorandum'...'No Way to Treat a Lady'...'Rollercoaster'. In comedies, he can play a Woody Allen or a Neil Simon archetype; he can be fumbling and feeble, helpless, shrimpy, pathetic. And then there are still other roles he has done where he is sophisticated, intellectual, shrewd, driven, self-aware, cerebral, and sensitive. Really diverse!

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21 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Aye. That indeed may be the chief merit of the mini-series format; all I intended to say is that I found 'Sho-Gun' more on the 'glossy' and 'glam' side.

There's been a few other good series on such harsh camps, the ones which come to mind for me are ones from BBC. What was the name of that one they did...very well received...oh yea, 'TENKU'. Ever seen?

No...can't say I have seen it.

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Forbes cut the scenes from the novel where King has an involvement with a native girl who lives just outside the prison compound. This aspect of the novel has a very Hollywoodish, and the film feels more realistic with all male characters. The novel doesn't suggest homosexual overtones between King and Marlow, but the film does. If you listen carefully, you'll hear that King rents out a space to guys who want some privacy. As rayban says, the casting of James Fox certainly underlines the homoerotic aspect, and Fox plays the separation scene this way, as he talks about "what we had." Forbes, one of the best screenwriters ever, writes dialogue that some will understand, yet will go over the heads of others, which is how things had to be done at the time. It was acceptable to show minor characters who are openly homosexual, like the one played by John Ronane and the one who helps the doctor, but not major characters like King.

Gay and lesbian characters are usually portrayed sympathetically in Bryan Forbes' films, like the ones played by Brock Peters and Cicely Courtneidge in The L-Shaped Room. Forbes himself was heterosexual, but sympathetic to the many gay men he met in the theater. His agent inquired if the young Forbes liked boys or girls, but did not pursue when the answer was girls. Obviously this agent wasn't much like Hollywood's Henry Willson. In his very engaging memoirs Forbes recounts how as a naive young man he unwittingly gave Terence Rattigan reason to hope for more.

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"The L-Shaped Room" was memorable for its' two gay characters.

In casting George Segal and James Fox in "King Rat", the homoerotic context of their relationship was established.

In "Seance on a Wet Afternoon", the roles of husband and wife are turned upside down.

She is dominant and all-powerful.

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