“We’ve been fighting it for years — and we know from experience, the less talk there is about it, the better.”
A widowed journalist (Gregory Peck) assigned to write a story about antisemitism decides to go undercover as a Jew to gain an insider’s perspective on discrimination. While his mother (Ann Revere), son (Dean Stockwell), colleague (Celeste Holm), and former GI buddy (John Garfield) are fully supportive, his fiancee (Dorothy McGuire) has reservations about how far Peck should extend his ruse, leading to tensions in their new relationship.
Elia Kazan’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel remains a thoughtfully crafted, well-acted drama which neatly surfaces the insidiousness of bias. The dramatic tensions building up to Peck’s decision to go underground as a Jew extend for a bit too long (and would likely have occurred to his character much earlier), but all that unfolds thereafter feels authentically discomfiting. Moss Hart’s screenplay incisively shows how — despite having just emerged from a bloody world war fueled in part by antisemitism — America remained secretly prejudiced itself, with prospective employees changing their names to sound “less Jewish”, and unspoken norms of WASP elitism perpetuating segregation. Peck is fine in the central role, but it’s the supporting players who stand out here — particularly Revere and Holm — and Arthur Miller’s cinematography is effectively atmospheric throughout. Gentleman’s Agreement isn’t comfortable to watch, but remains worthy viewing many years later.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine supporting performances
- Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography
- Moss Hart’s provocative screenplay
Yes, as a still-powerful indictment of enduring prejudice, both implicit and explicit.