The Gentle Gunman – Film news |

While no doubt made with the best of intentions, this 1952 drama about two brothers involved in the IRA during World War II doesn’t quite catch fire, not helped by the fact that its two leads, Dirk Bogarde and John Mills, are clearly missing several bottles of Guinness. a full body when it comes to a convincing “Irish” accent. Thankfully though, the details (of which there are quite a few) are held together thanks to fine performances from Robert Beatty and Barbara Mullen.

Based on Roger MacDougall’s play, the plot is set amid the “Troubles” of 1941, but it’s also the height of the Blitz during World War II. The plot begins in a small Irish backwater near the border with local Irishman Dr. Brannigan (Joseph Tomelty) playing a game of chess with his friend Henry Truethome (Gilbert Harding), an Englishman who visits Brannigan from time to time. although the two men may never really decide if they are friends or foes due to their differing political views and of course the legitimacy of English rule in Ireland. Meanwhile in London, two Irishmen residing in their accommodation – namely Patsy McGuire (Jack MacGowran) and Tim Connolly (Liam Redwood), two members of the IRA. While Patsy is busy putting the “finishing touches” on a suitcase that contains a DIY bomb, a third man arrives: Matt Sullivan (Dirk Bogarde), also a member of the IRA. His mission is to carry said suitcase to a London Underground station and blow up the device, too bad that minutes before he can perform the dastardly act, air raid sirens go off and everyone world rushes underground to take refuge along the platform. It doesn’t seem to worry Matt that in a few minutes all the people are dead, after all, they’re just English. Even a group of kids playing around the suitcase don’t change their minds at first, but he loses his temper when one of the kids observes that the suitcase seems to be ticking like clockwork. Just then, a subway train arrives and Matt tries to get in but it’s too late – in a panic, he climbs the escalators to escape the explosion. Enter another man in a trench coat who has been following Matt from the start. It is Terry Sullivan (John Mills), Matt’s older brother and although he has also been associated with the IRA, he now has doubts about their brutal tactics. At the last moment, Terry throws the suitcase on the tracks and in the tunnel before it explodes. Terry may have saved the children and countless others, but he’s smart enough to realize that this heroic act means he’s now been marked for death by the IRA who see him as a traitor to the cause. . Worried that his brother will end up dead, as will their father (who also died for the “cause”), Terry is adamant to save him and whistles (figuratively speaking)… Shortly after, the cops arrive to arrest Patsy and Connolly but Terry makes sure Matt escapes though the brothers break up after a heated argument.

Back in Ireland, an isolated petrol station (also close to the border) is run by the widow Molly Fagan whose husband, also an IRA member, was killed during one of the organization’s campaigns. Along with Molly lives her daughter Maureen (Elizabeth Sellars) – a fierce fanatic who hates the English and is in love with Terry, but quickly changes her mind when she learns of his betrayal of Ireland, leading her to claim that she is now in love with Matt. Teenage Johnny (James ‘Cosh Boy’ Kenney) also lives next door. He will soon start a job as an apprentice docker in Belfast – a fact which makes his mother happy as it means he will not be ‘recruited’ by the ‘firm’ and will avoid being killed like his father. Molly does not know that secretly, the leader of the IRA Shinto (Robert Beatty) has already started training Johnny in the use of firearms. Shortly after leaving for Belfast, Matt arrives at the Fagan gas station which appears to be serving as a hideout/meeting point for the Shinto men. Matt has been informed that Patsy McGuire and Tim Connolly are about to be moved from a London jail to a Belfast jail and waste no time planning a crime in the jail van. Thing is, neither Matt nor Shinto have any idea what boat the prison van will be arriving on, but hang in there…young Johnny, who now works at the port, has access to this information and Matt – although he promised Molly not to look for Johnny in Belfast – does precisely that and the boy is tricked into stealing papers containing vital information at the end of the shift. Suffice to say it all goes pear-shaped and when the security guards become suspicious (Matt, who just then gets harassed by a drunken doxy while waiting in his getaway car), Johnny loses his blood -cold and hits one of the security men with a torch, prompting his colleague to fire. Barely alive, the bullet lodged in Johnny’s spine and Matt knows he can’t take him to the hospital, so he brings him to Dr. Brannigan instead…

Meanwhile, Terry has also arrived at the Fagan house looking for Matt…he knows that Matt and Shinto will make a calculated attempt to free the two prisoners and hopes he can change his brother’s mind. Maureen, now running away from her former love, deliberately lies to Terry that she hasn’t seen Matt in weeks, but he knows that in all likelihood he is already in Belfast. Desperate to convince Matt otherwise, Terry travels to Belfast and in doing so incurs the wrath of Shinto and his cronies who have secretly sentenced the “traitor” to death…leading to a climax which sees two men dead and many unanswered questions…

THE GENTLE GUNMAN is by no means a bad movie and has its fair share of tense moments, though it has to be said to be flawed despite director Basil Dearden’s excellent direction and Gordon Dines’ atmospheric cinematography. First, the ending is left obscure (why?) and lacks any sort of pathos or satisfying conclusion. Second, despite the fact that Dirk Bogarde and John Mills were incredibly talented and accomplished actors, neither is quite right for the role of two Irishmen with IRA connections. At least Mills manages to have the occasional Irish accent while Bogarde’s attempt is simply beyond hope! Bogarde was more compelling as criminal Tom Riley in the 1950 crime drama THE BLUE LAMP, also directed by Dearden. Canadian-born actor Robert Beatty fares considerably better as a man driven by hate and rage, and as for American-born Barbara Mullen, she was of Irish descent anyway. . Even Scotland’s Elizabeth Sellars brings her Irish together in a believable way.

Recently restored and available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital, THE GENTLE GUNMAN features a stills gallery and trailer plus “A Closer Look” with writer and Dirk Bogarde aficionado Matthew Sweet and Phoung Lee – endlessly discussing the film and providing their expert verdicts lest all of us are too simple-minded to form an opinion. What would have been much more interesting might have been the reaction and reviews the movie received upon its initial release, etc.


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