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  Gentle Gunman, The Irish Risky
Year: 1952
Director: Basil Dearden
Stars: John Mills, Dirk Bogarde, Robert Beatty, Elizabeth Sellars, Barbara Mullen, Eddie Byrne, Joseph Tomelty, Liam Redmond, James Kenney, Michael Fagan, Jack MacGowran, Gilbert Harding, Terence Alexander
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is 1941 and Matt Sullivan (Dirk Bogarde) has arrived in London from rural Ireland, not because he wants to help the Allies' involvement in the Second World War, but because he wants to sabotage the British endeavours instead. Matt is a young member of the I.R.A. and wishes to prove himself in that organisation, but not everyone is convinced by him, and the two men in the terrorist cell he meets up with in their bedsit have mixed feelings about him. But they do entrust him with placing a suitcase bomb (on a timer) in an Underground station: just unfortunate for his conscience that locals are using it as an air raid shelter...

Don't worry, the day is saved (as are some children) by Matt's older brother Terence, played by that equally famous Irishman, Sir John Mills. You'll have spotted an issue here early on, in that while there were certainly Irish actors in the cast, there were not a whole lot of them, and most of the major roles went to Brits and North Americans with varying degrees of success when it came to an accurate accent. Obviously, there's more than one Irish accent, but one doubts the range was quite as diverse as what you heard here, and there was nobody going to be fooled by Bogarde's try at the brogue, a problem when he was a lead.

If you were willing to overlook the way The Gentle Gunman sounded, there were compensations, though another thing it was difficult to ignore was how it was aiming to be all things to all people, condemning neither side, but not exactly supporting them either. Ealing, sensing this was a touchy subject, opted for the "give peace a chance" angle, and this opened out play had Matt being taught a life lesson in non-violence that presumably was supposed to transfer to those watching, and improve their outlook in the process. It was not a terrible idea, but merely being well-meaning was not quite enough to carry the drama through ninety minutes.

What it did have in its favour was some fantastic black and white cinematography from Gordon Dines, who made London into every bit the film noir location it had been when Richard Widmark was wandering it in Night and the City, and by contrast, captured some attractively windswept landscapes of that were genuinely scenes taken in Ireland. Everybody looked great in this, the younger cast had a fresh-faced innocence liable to be corrupted, and the older cast had plenty of character to be conveyed in those moody closeups, so even when the dialogue jarred, the sheer look of the piece drew you in. In those early London scenes in particular, you could imagine Pinky from Brighton Rock was lurking somewhere in the shadows.

The plot had the cell arrested and sent to jail in Belfast to... be closer to their families?! Writer Roger MacDougall, adapting his stage play, was not so strong on logic, but he did work up some neat character acting business every so often that kept it at least on a low level of interest. Maybe most entertaining were Joseph Tomelty, as an Irish doctor, and TV personality Gilbert Harding as his visiting English friend from the gentry who endlessly debate the pros and cons of Ireland and Britain; an entire movie of their verbal jousting might have been more engaging than the kind of artificial conflict we were offered here, as opposed to the undeniably authentic conflict in the real world it faltered when trying to depict. But this was technically a thriller too, so there were even action sequences to offset the suspense. Overall, a brave stab at showing the Troubles without stepping on any toes, which is, of course, impossible. Music by John Greenwood.

[Studio Canal release this on Blu-ray with a featurette where critics Matthew Sweet and Phuong Le discuss the film, and a behind the scenes image gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Basil Dearden  (1911 - 1971)

Dependable British director who began his film career working on Will Hay comedies like My Learned Friend, then moved onto a range of drama and comedy: a segment of classic horror Dead of Night, important crime film The Blue Lamp, The Smallest Show on Earth, excellent heist story The League of Gentlemen, social issues film Victim, action spectaculars Khartoum and The Assassination Bureau and quirky horror The Man Who Haunted Himself. Sadly, Dearden died in a car crash.

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