In a Japanese POW camp during the waning days of World War II, George Segal plays a shrewd, charismatic American Corporal who wheels and deals his way to an easier life for himself and his friends, as others struggle to survive.
Bryan Forbes adapts James Clavell’s semi-autobiographical novel with mixed results. I loved the cast. I bought George Segal from the moment he strode on screen, past the other dirty prisoners toiling in rags, with his hair combed, his clothes pressed, and a watch gleaming on his wrist. And I appreciated the script’s metaphor of capitalist versus socialist economic models. But the script exhausts this metaphor well before the film’s two-hour-plus running time expires, leaving the film to meander. Side plots dangle. An occasional scene oversteps from powerful to preachy. These aren’t fatal flaws, but Forbes seems so focused on the individual characters he loses any through-line. This too isn’t fatal, but it robs the finale of its impact. Taken on its own, it implies a homoerotic connection between Segal and another character, which would have proved interesting, but the broader film doesn’t support the arc.
All this negativity may lead you to believe the film a mess. It is not. It features great cinematography, natural performances, and a thoughtful script. All the ingredients of a great film. Indeed, it packs several great, resonant scenes. That the whole falls short still renders it a good film worth watching.