For the audiences of 1961, accustomed to seeing Tony Hancock as a flickering 405-line black and white image, The Rebel must have come as a revelation: there was The Lad Himself, larger than life, on the big screen, in colour. Stone me, who'd have thought it!
Now, in a revelation to modern viewers, The Rebel has been painstakingly restored from the original camera negative, and it looks better than ever; so pristine and clear that it could almost have been released last week. Just don't start looking for errors in the period detail: it really was made in 1960...
As the 1950s came to a close, the career of Tony Hancock was nearing its zenith. With half a decade of successful radio and TV series to his credit it was time to make the move into films, a step that would see Hancock aiming high, with ambitions to make it as an international star. The grandiose ambition of 'The Lad' might well have come straight from the pen of scriptwriters Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and is certainly reflected in their script for The Rebel. The Hancock persona as seen on screen would have been very familiar to radio and TV audiences: grandiose, but thwarted ambition, followed by the pompous playing-up to his new found fame - and he was afforded plenty of opportunities to deliver the kind of comic routines, facial reactions and vocal nuances that had made him a star.
This rare chance to see Hancock in colour, and against some vivid Parisian backdrops - many shot on location - looks as sumptuous today as it must have done to the cinema audiences of 1960, even moreso in this stunning new restoration. The colour photography is especially suited to scenes such as those at the party of a modern art collector (Dennis Price), whose multi-hued residence would not have looked out of place in an episode of Batman.
Hancock himself is at the top of his comedic game, fresh from his successful run on BBCtv and radio - yet the film is tinged with poignancy at the thought of what might have been, and the tragedy that lay just a few years in the future. When Nanette Newman's blue-lipglossed existentialist asks of Hancock: "why kill time when you can kill yourself?", it's almost an edge-of-the-seat moment as we wait to see his reaction. He considers the remark, before breezily replying: "Yes, it's a point of view. I suppose so."
First released: Monday 30th September 2019
Initial copies of The Rebel include a limited edition booklet containing the script for The Day Off - what would have been Galton and Simpson's second film for Hancock had he not turned it down.
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