The 1940s have never looked more like the 1980s than in Michael Jenkins’ Rebel, from 1985.Debra Byrne belts out bombastic and anachronistic pop tune after pop tune, including the Top 40 hit “Heroes”. Production designer Brian Thomson dresses 1940s Sydney in the same garish neon reds as in his previous movie, Street Hero, set in 1984!
Matt Dillon seems shrunken as a US soldier and Rebel of the title. He’s tired of fighting and goes AWOL while on shore leave in Sydney, 1942. A suave conman (Bryan Brown’s moustachioed Tiger) fixes him passage on a boat out of the city, but for an exorbitant price. The offer comes too late anyway, for Rebel has fallen for Byrne’s nightclub singer, whose husband is away fighting.
There’s precious little chemistry between Bryne and Dillon. Byrne seems more like Dillon’s mother than lover. When she finally comes on to Rebel, he looks in danger of being eaten. Dillon seems undecided as to whether he’s playing a courageous man or contemptuous coward. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for either of them.Unlike Phillipe Mora’s superior Death of a Soldier, also set during the influx of US soldiers into Australian in 1942, Rebel fails to establish a realistic context for the action. Based on a non-musical play, No Names No Pack Drill, the film’s stage origins are shamelessly apparent. Rebel is loud, shrill and empty-headed.