The Gentle Gunman (1952)
"Damned Irish, won't let us get on with our war in peace."
From the production and direction team of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, it's no wonder this film has a strong message. The duo's output is littered with worthy subject matters: Race in 1950s London - Sapphire; Juvenile delinquency - I Believe in You and Violent Playground; the blackmail of homosexuals - Victim. In The Gentle Gunman the duo tackle the difficult issue of the IRA. And they waste no time in letting the audience know their position: the film starts with a game of chess between two friends, an Irish nationalist and a proud Englishman, arguing about the rights and wrongs of each side. A simple metaphor for the complexity of a situation where two nations - in theory so close - find themselves divided.
|Joseph Tomelty & Gilbert Harding|
Although the film is not highly regarded, and certainly isn't seen as being one of the more notable efforts from Ealing Studios, it does have plenty to recommend it. And I'm not just referring to the fantastic amount of raincoat wearing that is on screen:
|Robert Beatty & John Mills|
By choosing a story set during World War 2, the film makers offer us a further dilemma: on one side is the notion that if Britain is fighting for freedom and democracy why can't all Ireland be free, on the other the question of why are the IRA fighting for their rights at a time when there are greater concerns than who controls Northern Ireland? It's not that the film offers any solutions, it simply poses a question to its audience and allows them to reach their own decision ... whilst making sure they realise there is nothing glamorous about violence:
The story follows two brothers Terry (John Mills) and Matt (Dirk Bogarde) ...
... who are both members of the IRA. Sent to London to take part in a bombing campaign, Terry realises that the British population are not the real enemy and should not be their target. When he goes into hiding Matt comes looking for him and finds himself sent to carry out the bombing:
He too suffers a crisis of conscience when he realises some children playing in the tube station might be killed by the bomb. Returning to Ireland, Matt is followed by Terry - now considered to be a traitor - who wants to convince him to see sense and renounce violence.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Terry's girlfriend Maureen (Elizabeth Sellars) ...
... also considers him to be a traitor and soon switches her affections to Matt:
Her continuing obsession with violence does her no good and she is condemned to a life of solitude after the brothers eventually abandon both her and the violent path she continues to embrace:
For all the messages that are offered throughout the film, it ends with a simple and somewhat comical solution: returning to the chess playing friends, they toast each other with words that sum up their situation:
|"To England, where the situation may be serious but is never hopeless."|
"To Ireland, where the situation is always hopeless, but is never serious."
Here's who else appears:
Liam Redmond and Jack MacGowran
And Barbara Mullen as Matt and Terry's mother ...
... she isn't the obvious choice to play John Mills's mother having been born in 1914, a full six years after him. She was also only seven years older than her other 'son', Dirk Bogarde.
It's worth pointing out that James Kenney (playing Matt and Terry's younger brother) wears the same casual jacket previously worn by Harry Fowler in Dearden and Relph's other 1953 film I Believe in You. You can tell it's the same jacket because of a hole in the left breast:
|Harry Fowler in I Believe in You|
Whilst John Mills appears to wear the same leather jacket worn by Dirk Bogarde in Hunted (also 1952):
|Dirk Bogarde in Hunted|
Ignore lots of what you read about this film since it deserve a viewing. The film is currently available in the 'Screen Icons' John Mills box set:
P.S. Don't watch this film expecting Mills and Bogarde to deliver convincing Irish accents. They both make a dreadful hash of it.