Clown Jewels

Tragi-comic genius' big-screen outings are period treats

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Tony Hancock enjoyed immense success on TV as a jowly, luckless blowhard in a bleak and hostile world, but many doubted he could transfer to the big screen. The Rebel (1960) has been pooh-poohed by purists but for those prepared to indulge its creaky satire, it’s a period treat. It casts Hancock as an incompetent artist who thinks he’s a genius and moves to Paris. Having wowed the avantgarde with his preposterous theories, he comes under the wing of George Sanders’ art dealer, who mistakenly believes him to be responsible for the work of his more modest but brilliant roommate. The best moments are the small ones, including Hancock’s belligerent encounters with landlady Irene Handl. The Punch And Judy Man is more melancholic, Hancock starring as a seaside entertainer with a socially ambitious wife. The film inadvertently reflected the strains that would lead to Hancock’s suicidal end in 1968 as a lonely alcoholic.

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