The Gentle Gunman is an Ealing film that was directed by Basil Dearden, who also directed League of Gentlemen, Victim, All Night Long, and Sapphire, amongst other films. Deardon was a pretty solid director who always tried to have a little bit of social commentary in his movies.
It’s a film about the IRA, and needless to say, a British director might not be the best choice to tackle that topic. It’s set in WW2 and is about two brothers, who are played by very English actors trying to “’do Irish”—John Mills and Dirk Bogarde—and not quite getting it right. The Sullivan brothers are both working for the IRA, but there is a conflict. Terry (Mills) has somewhat modified his views and has been working undercover in London—who for, is somewhat questionable. But he spots his brother Matt (Bogarde) bringing a suitcase with a bomb in it down to the Camden tube station, and lets Matt escape back to Ireland.
The film tries to show “’both sides” of the Troubles, but it comes down (softly) on the side of the English, perhaps not wanting to piss off Irish audiences too much. But it’s Ealing, so what do you expect? You can definitely tell that it was based on a BBC TV play from a few years before. There are a couple of really good parts, however—the scene where Matt goes down the Tube is a very effective thriller sequence.
The Gentle Gunman reunited Deardon with cinematographer Gordon Dines, who shot most of Deardon’s Ealing films. Deardon stopped working with the company when he did The Smallest Show on Earth, which looks like an Ealing film but isn’t.
It’s perfectly fine, if not the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen. The Gentle Gunman has some nice noirish aspects but doesn’t quite know where it wants to stand on the issues; in addition, it’s tonally all over the place. For example, it ends with a funny line while the rest of the film is fairly serious. The accents are pretty wobbly—Mills and Bogarde are not the actors you would choose to play Irishmen. It drags in a few spots, which is a sin since it comes in at 86 minutes. That’s probably down to the director trying to turn televisual material into something cinematic. Some of its more enclosed scenes don’t quite work.
That said, it’s well-made, with some very nice photography, including some footage shot in Ireland as well as studio-set work. It’s an interesting historical document—and I don’t really get why the film had a trigger warning about outdated views, but I didn’t spot the issues. Bogarde gives the better performance. He was a much younger man, so despite the ridiculous accent it was possible to believe him in the role of the angry young, committed IRA member. while Mills as the older brother questioning their methods is less convincing. You could probably make the case that The Gentle Gunman was partly a response to the Carol Reed film, Odd Man Out, which is a more sympathetic film about the IRA.
The only extras on the disc are a conversation with Matthew Sweet and Phuong Le, plus a behind-the-scenes stills gallery.