Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Reviewed on 2008 December 27
It’s a bit stiff and a bit dated, but this movie said quite a bit about quiet (and not-so-quiet) anti-Semitism. This isn’t as oh-so-now (that’s not a compliment) as Crash; it got there first, at a time when speaking out against this sort of thing wasn’t politically correct or hip. Elia Kazan showed a lot of courage when he signed on to direct this, which makes his caving before HUAC sad and ironic, but that’s another story. I’m going to focus on his 118-minute act of strength here.
Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) is a journalist given an assignment that stumps him: a piece on anti-Semitism in America. Being a Gentile, this is something he sees little of; being a decent, open-minded man, it’s an alien concept to him anyway. He did grow up with a Jewish buddy, the affable David Goldman (John Garfield), but never really discussed Goldman’s heritage or any problems he encountered with him, because Green and his family really didn’t care one way or another. He was just another kid to hang out with and for Green’s tough, loving mother (Anne Revere) to stuff with her famous cooking.
In a flash of inspiration, Green decides to experience things first hand. He is going to tell anyone who doesn’t know him that he is Jewish. He forges ahead and is astonished by the depth of prejudice out there. This opens up multiple cans of worms for Green and his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell). Green is determined to finish this assignment, though he hates the toll it takes on him and his family.
As I’ve said, it’s a little old-fashioned, but I think it’s still a great film. The acting from Peck is wonderful — I felt awful for him during the hotel scene — and if nothing else it’s a window into the world of “exclusive” resorts and subdivisions when that crap was still tolerated. Garfield was very convincing as Goldman, the friend most of us still have from third grade. I really got a kick out of Celeste Holm as Anne Dettrey, Green’s cocktail-party-throwing cohort. She wasn’t the lead female, but I think she got the best line in the movie.
Three chocolate morsels, and pretty much anything you wish, as long as there’s nothing hidden in it. If you buy the DVD, watch the AMC Backstory too.