Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

“We’ve been fighting it for years — and we know from experience, the less talk there is about it, the better.”

Synopsis:
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.

Genres:

Review:
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

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful indictment of enduring prejudice, both implicit and explicit.

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One Response to “Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)”

  1. A no-brainer must-see which holds up quite well on repeat viewings.

    I probably see this film about once a year – and, each time, it plays like a bat out of hell. It’s a sad reality that – although this film is now 70 years old (!) – we as a human race are woefully behind where we should be in the matter of prejudice. We sometimes make advances – and then we fall miserably behind. (Just look at our current ‘administration’ in DC.)

    But, regarding the film…what’s most potent about it is that it covers the issue from a number of angles (as represented by various characters) – so we get people who clearly see the stupidity of prejudice; those who are prejudiced and lie about it; those who are Jews but are against other Jews; those who are humanitarian and sympathetic but nevertheless still don’t want to get involved personally, etc.

    The cast is uniformly excellent – from leads to bit players. Aside from Peck (in one of his more solid film performances), I’m impressed by Holm as his colleague, June Havoc as his Jew-hating Jew secretary, and McGuire – who has one of the hardest roles (because her character is so blind to her own behavior for so long).

    Revere and Garfield are also quite strong – if not quite as central to the plot. I particularly like Garfield’s scene with McGuire near the end (where she gets her ‘wake-up call’, because he basically gives it to her). That’s one of the strongest of the film’s many effective scenes.

    There seems to be something…programmed…into about half of the world’s humanity: the compulsion to hate, and/or to fear ‘the other’. Who knows why it’s so hard to eradicate? But we do what we can. And powerful films like this one are a testament to that.

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