The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - THE GENTLE GUNMAN | The Movie Waffler

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Re-Release Review - THE GENTLE GUNMAN

the gentle gunman review
An Irishman attempts to stop his younger brother from committing an act of terrorism.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Basil Dearden

Starring: John Mills, Dirk Bogarde, Robert Beatty, Elizabeth Sellars

the gentle gunman bluray

As soon as The Troubles kicked off in the late 1960s, the British media took an almost blanket approach in denying representation of the Irish side of the conflict. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, were forbidden from appearing in media, songs that critiqued Britain's involvement in Ireland were banned from the radio and it was near impossible to get funding for any movies that displayed sympathy for the Irish cause. Just a couple of decades earlier however, the British media viewed Irish Republicanism as almost something quaint, even romantic. A movie like Basil Dearden's 1952 thriller The Gentle Gunman would never have gotten made 20 years later.

the gentle gunman review

Even its title would likely have ruffled feathers in the 1970s. The gentle gunman is young IRA fighter Matthew (Dirk Bogarde, barely attempting an Irish accent), who in 1941 is sent to London to plant a bomb in the underground. The plan is not to cause any harm to civilians, but when children start playing near where Matthew leaves the suitcase containing the device, his older brother Terry (John Mills, making even less effort in the accent department) is forced to intervene, tossing the bomb down the subway track where it explodes without causing damage.


When the two men who planned the bombing - Connolly (Liam Redmond) and Patsy (Jack MacGowran) - are arrested, Matthew flees back to Ireland, while Terry, who is viewed as a traitor, remains in London. When Terry hears of a plan to break Connolly and Patsy free from the ship bringing them to prison in Northern Ireland, he heads to Ireland and attempts to stop Matthew from becoming involved.

the gentle gunman review

The Gentle Gunman takes an anti-violence stance, yet at the same time it refuses to take sides in the conflict, quite daring considering it was made for a British audience. A pair of doctors, the Irish Brannigan (Joseph Tomelty) and his English counterpart Truethome (Gilbert Harding), act as something of a Greek chorus, debating both sides of the conflict while playing chess. They later find themselves caught up in the very conflict they've been arguing over when an injured IRA soldier arrives at their door. Neither Brannigan nor Truethome best one another, but the portrayal of the English doctor as pompous and arrogant suggests a surprising level of sympathy for the Irish side of the affair from the filmmakers.


There's something hypocritical about the film's constant sermonising about how violence isn't the answer, as Terry finds himself having to wield a gun in order to make anyone listen to him. The words of its script might make an argument for pacifism, but The Gentle Gunman's actions display quite the opposite and ironically backs up the need for the threat of violence.

the gentle gunman review

Bogarde and Mills are badly miscast. They're both two old for the roles, and certainly too English. Surrounding them with actual Irish actors only makes them stand out all the more, and there are moments where we forget which side they're meant to be representing. Frequent comic interludes are admittedly quite witty, but serve to diffuse the tension.

Dearden does a reliable job with the film's few suspense sequences, but regardless of our views on this conflict, we're not really given anyone to care about. Bogarde's Matthew is a paper thin stereotype of a young man exploited by terrorists too cowardly to do their own dirty work, but we never feel like he has any sort of a mind of his own, never mind any self-determination or perspective on the conflict. His gunman isn't so much gentle as obtuse.

The Gentle Gunman
 is on UK blu-ray/DVD/VOD from March 7th.