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Australia 1985
Directed by
Michael Jenkins
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


With a bigger budget and more time, a different director, editor, sound recordist and make-up artist and a helluva lot less red paint, Rebel might have been a better movie. Whilst some would simply dismiss this WWII quasi-musical,written by helmer Michael Jenkins (who started as a director for ABC TV's Bellbird and whose career, both before and after this, has been almost exclusively in television) and Bob Herbert, based on the latter's stage play 'No Names, No Pack Drill' as simply ungainly, for all its many undoubted shortcomings there is something not only strangely attractive in its out-of-kilter, hyper-real re-creation of war-time Sydney and even something affecting in its almost embarrassing sentimentality (the climactic final scene is a howler of audience manipulation).

Matt Dillon plays Rebel, an American soldier on leave in Sydney in 1942 who goes AWOL and falls in love with a cabaret singer Kathy (Debra Byrne). The opening number, a disco-beat stylization of a '40s swing number by an all-girl band sets the razzle dazzle tone to which thankfully the film sticks reasonably close. In fact had the film been made as a musical proper it probably would have been much more successful, for the original songs by Peter Best and choreography by Ross Coleman are the film's highpoints even if they sound like nothing that anyone would have heard in the 1940s. On the other hand the film is terribly clunky in its dramatic aspects, virtually every such scene being abruptly curtailed with a return to action of one kind of another as the star-crossed lovers.  

Debbie Byrne, then a pop diva, in her only feature film appearance is too old to make the romance credible (she was 28 to Dillon’s 21) but few professional actresses would have been able to fulfill the song and dance requirements of the role, something which she does very well although she receives no help from a hairstyle that looks like a horse-hair mattress exploded on her head. The always compelling Dillon, unibrow notwithstanding, is strongly reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando (unfortunately, unlike Brando, he doesn’t essay a musical number) whilst Bryan Brown and Bill Hunter provide their typical Aussie bloke characterizations.

If nothing else Rebel deserves status as a curio piece in Australian film.




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