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Rebel, The (1960)


Main image of Rebel, The (1960)
Directed byRobert Day
Production CompanyAssociated British Picture Corporation
Produced byW.A.Whittaker
Screenplay byRay Galton, Alan Simpson
Based on an original story byTony Hancock, Ray Galton, Alan Simpson
Director of PhotographyGilbert Taylor
Music byFrank Cordell

Cast: Tony Hancock (Anthony Hancock); George Sanders (Sir Charles Brewer); Paul Massie (Paul); Margit Saad (Margot Carreras); Gregoire Aslan (Carreras); Dennis Price (Jim Smith)

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A downtrodden office worker and amateur painter and sculptor rebels against his complacent bourgeois existence and moves to Paris, where he attempts to be taken seriously as an artist.

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This was the first big screen work for Hancock's Half-Hour (BBC, 1956-60) writers Galton & Simpson, with Tony Hancock as usual playing a character called Hancock. The trio's shared TV and radio work allows his established persona to inform the film, so there are some classic comic scenes and lines, developing anti-intellectual themes Hancock had worked with before. Many of the jokes about 'modern' (or abstract) art seem less funny now, and there is an air of comic stereotype cliché about them, but they remind us that one way of dealing with the unfamiliar or intellectual is to mock.

The opening gag, where Hancock gets his train seat by sneaking aboard from the wrong side via a train on the other platform, sets him up as a rebel, and his subsequent run-ins with representatives of authority (the boss, his landlady) continue this theme. Like many rebels, though, when confronted with more serious issues - such as the loss of his ticket to Paris, the moral question of unwittingly passing off painting as his own, or coping with unwanted advances from the shipping magnate's wife - he wants to do the right thing, and in attempting to extricate himself gives depth to the comedy.

Hancock's outfits signal what is happening: as frustrated artist he wears smock and beret; as city worker brolly, bowler and suit; as rich (con-)artist: cigarette-holder, homburg, cape and cravat are the emperor's new clothes. Finally he's in casual mode, the true rebel who has rejected it all for his 'art'.

In this film, comic rebellion places artists as the antithesis of workers and there is a kind of lazy shorthand at work that conflates artists with Paris, existentialism, angry young men, beatniks and beat poets. Cod philosophical discussions of what art is about permeate the film, but this reflects the times accurately and allows Hancock to get in his "You're all raving mad" catchphrase as he quits the exhibition and its phony artists, artworks and monied hangers-on. The coda has him remaining true to himself, re-creating the Aphrodite statue once more, now with Irene Handl as his model. In an absurdist echo down the years, Aphrodite and the other works seen in the film were re-created by the London Institute of Pataphysics in 2002. Hancock would have loved the irony.

David Sharp

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Video Clips
1. Catching a train (1:13)
2. Infantilism (3:30)
3. Cat versus bird (3:23)
4. All raving mad (0:58)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Best, Richard (1916-2004)
Galton, Ray (1930-) and Simpson, Alan (1929-)
Hancock, Tony (1924-1968)
Handl, Irene (1901-1987)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Newman, Nanette (1934-)
Price, Dennis (1915-1973)
Reed, Oliver (1938-1999)
Sanders, George (1906-1972)
Taylor, Gilbert (1914-)