Elia Kazan directed this sometimes powerful study of anti-Semitism in nicer circles, based on Laura Z. Hobson's post-World War II novel. Gregory Peck is a hotshot magazine writer who has been blind to the problem; to ferre... more »t it out, he passes himself off as Jewish and watches the WASPs squirm. Seen a half-century later, the attitudes seem quaint and dated: Could it really have been like this? Yet the truth of the story comes through, in the wounded dignity of John Garfield, the upright indignation of Peck, and the hidden ways bigotry and hatred can poison relationships. That's particularly true in the Oscar-winning performance of Celeste Holm, who finds more layers than you'd expect in what seems like a stock character. --Marshall Fine« less
"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"
Superb DVD presentation of classic film
DBW | Chicago, IL USA | 04/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
GREAT FILM, THORUGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Fernando Silva | Santiago de Chile. | 01/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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")."
An Absorbing Study of Anti-Semitism
Bill Saffell | Fredericksburg, VA USA | 07/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A Powerful Study of Anti-Semitism
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 01/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."