It happens all the time. Someone tells a joke--or perhaps you tell one yourself. Just a little joke about "those people." I've done it, and very likely you have done it too. But it's really okay. We're not prejudiced, and we're not hurting any one. It's just a little private laugh between friends.
Based on the celebrated but now sadly neglected novel by Laura Z. Hobson, GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT is a story about the little jokes that people tell because they want to fit in--and the jokes that people let pass because they don't want to make a scene. And it is about the way in which such incidents enable still darker prejudices that strike directly at the heart of all the people we make the little jokes about.
Philip Schuyler Green has been employed to write an expose of anti-Semitism in post-WWII America--and he has an inspiration. He will pretend to be Jewish himself and experience anti-Semitism first hand. But the little jokes are soon followed by little patronizations, the patronizations give way to ill-concealed racism and religious prejudice, and what began as a magazine job begins to shake Green to his very foundations. It will threaten his friendships, his relationship with the socialite he hopes to marry, the well-being of his mother, and ultimately the safety of his child.
Critics are fond of pointing out that the film is flawed. That is true enough: the first quarter hour feels a bit slow, leading man Gregory Pecks seems to lack conviction in his earliest scenes, and the script often calls upon its characters to philosophize in an unlikely way; the last scene in the film also rings false. In terms of performance, the cast is stylistically divided: half perform in what might be called "the standard Hollywood style" of the day, half adopt an approach that we recognize as modern. Nonetheless, these become trivial issues in the face of the powerful statement involved; everything goes down before it, and if you unexpectedly and most unpleasantly see yourself reflected in one or more characters or situations, don't feel alone.
Critics are also fond of stating that changing times have left the subject dated. Well, you tell me... when was the last time you heard one of those "little jokes?" True enough, it may not have been about Jews. It might have been about African-Americans. Or Mexicans. Or gays. Or was it, given today's environment, just a little joke about Moslems? To our great shame, the overall point of GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT remains as deadly accurate today as it was more than half a century ago.
The DVD has several bonuses. Most notable are the "Back Story" documentary produced by AMC and the commentary led by critic Richard Schickel. The transfer, although not excellent, is good. And the story is as unfortunately pertinent as ever.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
In Memory of Bob Zeidler, Amazon Reviewer
Greatly Missed and Not Forgotten
on July 2, 2000
This study of anti-semitism in post WWII American society won academy awards for best picture, best director (Elia Kazan), and best supporting actress (Celeste Holm). It's somewhat dated, and parts of the script come off more as speech-making than actual dialogue, but it's still a good cinematic examination of this important issue. Gregory Peck stars as a magazine writer who poses as a Jew in order to attain an in-depth 'angle' on his assignment. The prejudice that he encounters as a result of his research affects the life of his son, played by a very young Dean Stockwell, and his budding romance with his boss's niece, played by Dorothy McGuire, who learns that she's not as liberal as she thought. The supporting cast is outstanding, notably Anne Revere as Peck's compassionate, no-nonsense mother, Albert Dekker as a tough, plain-spoken magazine boss, Oscar winner Celeste Holm as a writer with keen insights into human foibles, and, especially, John Garfield as Dave Goldman, Peck's long-time friend who's just back from WWII service. He passes on insights to Peck drawn from a lifetime of personal experience, and his performance, is, for me, the soul of the film. This may not be the definitive film on anti-semitism, but it's still a rewarding experience for anyone interested in seeing a well-written and superbly acted film dealing with a serious social problem.
on January 17, 2001
It's a great film, superbly acted all the way by an excellent cast (specially Anne Revere and Celeste Holm), serious viewing, some very good dialogues and wisecracks, the latter by the great Celeste Holm. My only regret, focusing not in the main antisemitic issue of the film but in the "romantic relationships" shown in the movie, is the ending...Peck should have chosen the sincere, sophisticated, wisecraking blonde, not the inane, wishy washy, stuffy and complicated socialité. It seems that in those conventional days, characters like the one played by Miss Holm, independent women of the world with careers, self-assured, with opinions of their own....were not meant to be the heroines, nor to get the hero at the end...because of the way of life they had chosen, they were condemned ("cinematically" speaking) to eternal singlehood, 'cos that way of being didn't fit with the ideal of married or unmarried (goodness!) so-called "ideal" couples....maybe in 1932 this wouldn't have been so...(for more information read Mick LaSalle's excellent "Complicated Women" and compare this to movies of that era focusing on couple's relationships like "The Animal Kingdom" (1932), "The Divorcée" (1930) or even "Design for Living", the latter a sort of "threesome" predecessor of Gregg Araki's 1999 "Splendor").
on January 3, 2002
A little less than a decade earlier Twentieth Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck tackled the subject of lynch law injustice in "The Ox Bow Incident." In 1948 he battled anti-Semitism with equally brilliant results in "Gentleman's Agreement," which starred Gregory Peck and was directed with a stellar hand by Elia Kazan.
Peck plays a New York magazine writer who decides to do a comprehensive study of what it is like to live as a Jew. One of the film's most powerful scenes occurs when Peck, giving the name he is using for his investigation, Green, is turned away when he seeks to register at a prominent hotel, with a policy of turning away Jews. He learns much as well about the struggle of Jewish Americans in interacting with his friend John Garfield, an Army officer with much insight to reveal.
His involvement in the controversial experiment and ultimately expose causes Peck problems with his girlfriend Dorothy McGuire. Eventually she sees the light and recognizes an important truism as she states that at least in the cases of anti-Semitic bigots one knows where one stands. She observes the more outwardly subtle problem of people on the one hand proclaiming themselves as liberal and without prejudice, but also playing it safe and refusing to stand up for injustice when it occurs, such as when anti-Jewish jokes are told at cocktail parties or slights are observed which stem from bigotry and nothing is said.
"Gentleman's Agreement" was a bold step forward for Hollywood in facing up to realities in post-World War Two America. Zanuck and Kazan would also tackle the subject of race in the sensitively done "Pinky" with Jeanne Crain one year later in 1949. Crain is a young woman with African American blood who attempts to pass for white in a society affected by racism.
on April 8, 2004
Kudos to Fox Home Entertainment for a very satisfying DVD presentation of "Gentleman's Agreement," the 1947 Best Picture Academy Award winner. The film itself is deserving of all of the accolades it received, both upon its initial release, and in all the years since.
I'm assuming that most of the people considering a purchase of the DVD have already seen the movie, so I'd like to focus here on the incisive commentary by Richard Schickel, long-time film critic for Time magazine. Stars June Havoc and Celeste Holm are also heard on the track, recorded separately, and while their remarks are interesting, this is Schickel's showcase, and he runs with it.
As it happened, I wound up listening to this commentary over the course of three nights. This kind of gradual exposure allowed me to really absorb Schickel's observations.
The critic is no sycophantic fan of "Gentleman's Agreement." While he admires its aims, and much of its execution (primarily the achievements of director Elia Kazan), he has some reservations about the script, and some of the acting.
He demonstrates a complete understanding of the conventions of 1940s studio filmmaking, but doesn't always accept the necessity that "Gentleman's Agreement" had to adhere to those norms. I didn't always agree with Schickel's criticisms of the film, but they certainly made me think, and I never found them off-putting.
Schickel wisely underscores the contribution of John Garfield, whose training in The Group Theater gave him a more realistic acting style than anyone else in the film. "Garfield seems to be acting in an entirely different movie," Schickel says, and it is not a criticism. The Garfield performance leads on a direct path to Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire," also directed by Kazan, and Schickel makes this clear. It is at this point that he makes the single most fascinating statement in the entire commentary, which I won't spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that it's something that may strike you as intuitive, but put into this context, becomes something of a revelation.
I've seen Web-based reviews of this DVD that criticize Schickel for doing too much plot summary. I disagree; he doesn't merely give a blow-by-blow account of what's hapening. He mentions plot points, but goes on to offer an opinion about how well the moment is conveyed, or about what real-life parallels the film is touching upon, or something else that is valuable to the viewer.
DVD commentaries just don't get much better than this.
The other extras on the disc, among them an AMC backstory presentation and a selection of 1947 newsreels, are nice additions.
on January 26, 2013
Gregory Peck plays a magazine writer who is asked to write a series of articles on anti-Semitism. He struggles to find an angle that hasn't been done before, then realizes the only way he can write it is to live it first. He pretends to be Jewish and encounters some outspoken biased feelings from some, and even worse a politeness from others who smugly hide their prejudices but still restrict hom from joining others. This sudden "truth" about him affects his relationship with the woman he loves...and his happy son is suddenly picked on by classmates who call him derogatory Jewish slurs.
It is still a powerful piece, though dated, of course. But prejudice still exists for people of all nationalities and religions. We've seen enough of that in the news to know that hate never disappears. Gregory Peck is excellent as the writer, and Dorothy McGuire turns in a good performance. Exceptional in the cast are John Garfield as the writer's best friend (who happens to be Jewish), Anne Revere as Peck's mother, and Celeste Holm, who develops a crush on him. Garfield is best known for his angry young man performances, but except for one brief moment of a fight in this film, he displays a touching inner dignity throughout the picture. Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) is excellent as Peck's son.
The film was a difficult one to get made. It was a best-selling novel, but most of the studio heads wouldn't option the screen rights because they were Jewish and they didn't want to draw attention to themselves by making this story. Maverick producer Darryl F. Zanuck, who wasn't Jewish, was the head of the 20th Century-Fox studio at the time, bought the rights. And after it was filmed, the other studio heads offered to buy the film from him, in order to shelve it. He wouldn't sell out...and the film went on to win the Best Picture Oscar for 1947.
Many of the people in front of the cameras and behind had to face the House Un-American Activities Committee. John Garfield died a few years later of a heart attack due to the hounding by HUAC.
Video quality is exceptional, with definite grain.
Audio is also good.
Extras are carried over from the DVD: A Hollywood Backstory about the making of the movie (25 min.), a trailer, two Movietone clips, and a dry-as-dust commentary by Richard Schickel with tiny bits interjected with film stars Cleste Holm and June Havoc.
on May 16, 2006
To those who claim that GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT exaggerates the degree of antisemitism in 1940's America, I would point out that the script is an indictment not so much of blatant antisemitism (there is little of that shown), but of decent people, common to every era, who are passive, who fail to work for a more just society; and that any ethnic group could stand in for the Jewish one depicted in the film. With those who complain that some of the acting is stilted or wooden I partly agree and would add that the style of acting prevalent in the 1940's cinema was rather at odds with the daring, realistic themes it was starting to explore (think also of 1949's gritty CALL NORTHSIDE 777). This aside, Gregory Peck's performance as Schuyler "Phil" Green, a writer who poses as a Jewish man in order to expose "everyday" antisemitism, is extraordinary. (This device, the personalizing of antisemitic experience for Green, itself prevents the film from becoming a mere tract.) From a somewhat apathetic bystander he changes into an individual of strong convictions. His speeches denouncing antisemitism or passivity are right-on, and he plays the kind of compassionate father any child would want. When he is put out of a "restricted" hotel in one of the film's climactic scenes, the viewer feels he is finally and truly in the very shoes of those who experience such treatment regularly. One who should be used to vulgar antisemitic remarks is Green's Jewish best friend, Dave Goldman. But in that role John Garfield conveys movingly the restrained yet profound sadness of a man for whom each new antisemitic incident is as painful as the first one was. Celeste Holm fully deserved the Oscar she won for her portrayal of Anne, Green's outspoken colleague. As a previous reviewer said, one almost wishes Green had married her in the end rather than the morally weaker Kathy. Yet Dorothy McGuire has her own kind of strength in this role; one believes Kathy will only become stronger in the future and thus a "fit wife" for Green. While some may dismiss GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT as flawed or dated, I find it powerful and relevant to any era.
on July 10, 2013
Gentleman's Agreement (20th Century Fox, 1947) was director Elia Kazan's fourth film.
Journalist Phil Green (Gregory Peck) moves to New York with his young son, Tommy (Dean Stockwell), and mother (Anne Revere) to write an expose on anti-Semitism. Green racks his brain trying to come up with a story angle, eventually deciding to pose as a Jew. His new girlfriend, socialite Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire), is privy to the scheme, but tensions arise when she insists on letting her concerned friends and family know her boyfriend isn't really Jewish. Green discovers prejudice everywhere, even at the office. His friend, discharged Jewish serviceman, Dave Goldman (John Garfield), encounters intolerance when he searches for a job and a house for his family. Green's expose is finally published, Kathy faces her own lack of bravery in confronting bigotry, and the two live happily ever after.
Gentleman's Agreement won Best Picture Oscar for 20th Century Fox mogul, Darryl F. Zanuck, Best Director for Elia Kazan, and Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holme. Wooden Indian Peck plays one note throughout as the over-earnest writer. Lovely Dorothy McGuire is actually quite good as the high society-conscious girlfriend but Kathy's constant tifts with Green over his faux Jewish identity are grating. Ann Revere's new world, liberal soapbox soliloquy is embarrassing. Dean Stockwell is convincing as Tommy and June Havoc does a wonderful job in the role of Green's Jewish secretary, Elaine Wales. Romance-starved Gal Friday, Anne Dettry (Celeste Holm) follows Green around like she's a doe in heat while Garfield shines in his role. Peck, McGuire, and Revere were nominated for Oscars. Kazan was later very critical of Peck's and McGuire's performances. In his autobiography he wrote that McGuire's portrayal was "`straight', no surprises" and that she was "perfect for the part - not the nicest thing to say about a fine girl."
Gentleman's Agreement was another of Zanuck's many social crusades. Hollywood's Jewish moguls tried to convince him not to make the movie fearing a backlash. Kazan was highly critical of the film in later writings and interviews. While it might have been a candy-coated look at bigotry, as was his next film, Pinky, it was brave and cutting edge cinema for its day. The scene where Green attempts to book a room as a Jew at a restricted hotel is riveting even today. Due to its liberal message several of those associated with the film were called before the House Un-American Committee including Kazan, Zanuck, Revere, and Garfield.
This Blu-ray has a fairly informative commentary by film critic, Richard Shickel, with additional comments from Celeste Holm and June Havoc.
on March 26, 2013
GREAT BLU RAY QUALITY SO GOOD THEY ARE PUTTING THESE CLASSICS ON BLU RAY FOR THE OLDER AND YOUNGER GENERATION TO RE LIVE AND CAPTURE FOR THE FIRST TIME . ALL THE WAY TO AUSTRALIA HAS FOUND A GOOD HOME MANY THANKS TO AMAZON
on December 12, 2005
Gregory Peck plays writer Philip S. Green in Elia Kazan's Best Picture Oscar winning film adaptation of Laura Z. Hobson's controversial novel, GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT. Daring for 1947, it seems rather tame now.
Green is an investigative reporter who 'becomes Jewish' for several months in order to discover the truth about anti-Semitism in post-World War Two America. What he finds out about ingrained prejudice is profoundly disturbing, especially when it invades his own home.
Peck is brilliant in the role, as is actor John Garfield, who plays Dave Goldman, his best friend. The rest of the cast is uneven, and the film loses itself too often in ham-handed moralizing and philosophizing which takes away from the story.
Still, it is difficult not to be sickened as the dapper Peck is turned away from a "Gentiles Only" establishment for no other reason than his assumed identity as a Jew; it is horrifying to see his young son (Dean Stockwell) traumatized after being attacked in the schoolyard for being a 'kike'; and worst of all, it is terrible to hear Peck's supposedly liberal girlfriend (Dorothy McGuire) comfort the boy with the words, "But it's not true...You're not any more Jewish than I am."
GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT has its flaws. It never gets its hands dirty by addressing the prejudices of anyone but the tennis club set, and it handles the issue the same way someone might approach a person with poor hygiene.
Yet, despite its shortcomings it dared to attack a very real and (to that point) unaddressed social problem then (and sadly still) existing in an open and democratic United States flush with its victory over Nazi Germany, underscoring that whether by Nuremberg Law or Gentleman's Agreement, prejudice is intolerable in a viable society.