Anthony Hancock quits his 9 to 5 job to become an artist in Paris, where he achieves overnight success and the patronage of art dealer Sir Charles Brewer by passing off the work of his disillusioned friend, Paul, as his own.
Tony Hancock always needed to be the centre of attention. Consequently, Kenneth Williams was unceremoniously dumped from the long-running radio show, Hancock's Half Hour, for getting bigger laughs and Sid James suffered much the same fate when he was dropped from the TV spin-off in 1960. However, for the time being, at least, Hancock still recognised his dependence upon writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and he retained them for this return to cinema, following his inauspicious debut in Orders Are Orders in 1954.
The Rebel marked the only time that Anthony Aloysious St John Hancock made it to the big screen, as he sought to escape from the persona of the `cunning, high-powered mug' in subsequent outings. All the ignorance, arrogance, pomposity and juvenility that made Hancock a star were on view, as he swopped his bowler hat for a beret and launched himself upon Bohemia. But, the sitcomic Hancock had specialised in passive resistance rather than rebellion, as he sought to make a quick quid, buck the system or acquire some cheap kudos. Moreover, for all his aspirations, he rarely strayed far from Railway Cuttings, East Cheam and the best moments here are set in his familiar milieu, as he secures himself a seat on the commuter train and trades banter with his landlady (brilliantly played by the peerless Irene Handl) while working on his hideous sculpture, `Aphrodite at the Water Hole'. However, once the scene shifts to Paris, the screenplay settles for too many easy shots at artistic clichés and caricatures and the parochial smugness of the Brits abroad. Hancock's attempts to hold his own in conversations about aesthetics recall the desperate bluffing of Will Hay, while the affectations he adopts on achieving success are amusingly true to form. But the excess of plot to shoehorn into the later stages meant that there was too little room for the kind of character comedy at which Hancock excelled. In many ways, his next picture, The Punch and Judy Man, was more ambitious. But its monochrome bleakness failed to find an audience.
A well-scripted film that while it might not see Hancock at his very best, still remains funny to a modern audience.