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   GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947) 

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CAST
Gregory Peck
Dorothy McGuire
John Garfield
Celeste Holm
Anne Revere
June Havoc
Albert Dekker
Jane Wyatt
Dean Stockwell

DIRECTED BY
Elia Kazan

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 118 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Romance

Won Academy Awards for Best Director, Supporting Actress (Holm) and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Actor, Actress (McGuire), Film Editing, Supporting Actress (Revere) and Screenplay.


There are two main reasons I decided to watch this film. The first would be that it won the Oscar for Best Picture and I try to make it a point to see what the Academy was thinking at certain times in cinema history. It's rare that I agree with them regarding the flicks that win, though my first choice is usually amongst the nominees. The second and more personal reason is because the film stars Gregory Peck. Though I like classic film and enjoy his work, I have not seen many of his movies. Since he was Oscar nominated for this role as well, I thought this would be a good film to expand my Peck viewing. It's also directed by the critically renowned and personally detested Elia Kazan. His politics aside, he's one of Hollywood's most gifted directors. So with all that going for it, I figured it would at least be worth the time spent.

The one thing I wasn't exactly excited about was the plot. GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT is more morality play than pure drama centering on one man's struggle against anti-semitism. Not exactly a day at the park. Obviously, this was a very important topic of the time that is still, unfortunately, prevalent today. The problem is that the film, which has a decent story and message, plays somewhat heavy-handed, shouting its message over and over again. I think a little subtlety would have helped even the film out, making it more palatable and thought-provoking. The scenes where people come to understand and confront the intolerance and hypocrisy in themselves are by far the films' most moving and interesting moments. Where characters realize that by not taking a stand and allowing others to give life to their prejudices, they are in fact helping to promote prejudice by doing nothing to stop it.


"What? Now, Green, don't get me wrong. Why, some of my best friends are Jews."

Underneath all the rhetoric, GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT is actually mainly a love story. Peck's character Phil Green is asked to join the staff of a New York magazine as a feature writer. His first assignment in the big city is a story about anti-semitism. However, his boss, Mr. Minify, doesn't want the same old story of statistics and restricted clubs. He wants a personal view, something that will blow the problem wide open. Phil agrees its an issue that deserves attention, but isn't sure he's the man for the job. He's never experienced that kind of prejudice and is stymied about how to tell this story in a new and influential way. When he finally does discover the perfect hook, his mother (Revere) stands by his choice, however, his new girlfriend Kathy (Maguire) is not as quick to jump on the bandwagon.

The only way Phil can truly understand what Jews undergo on a daily basis is to become one. So, he decides to go undercover as a Jew, letting everyone he comes in contact with know his "background." The only people who are in on the secret are his family, Kathy and his editor Mr. Minify. Though Kathy was the one to suggest the series to begin with, her initial unhappiness at the idea does not go over well with Phil. Kathy wants to help, but her family and friends may not understand or accept her dating a "Jewish" man. They manage to work through the issue, but it's never quite settled properly, pushed under the rug for a future time. Of anyone, Phil was hoping she would understand that this was the only way for him to get the story. Boy does he get a story.

It doesn't take long for the rumor of his heritage to get around the office. With every passing day, it becomes more and more clear to him that this problem in society is bred not only by anti-semitics, but also by those who choose to stay silent in regards to unacceptable behavior. On the brink of marriage, he and Kathy come to an impasse when he can't make her understand that this has become more than just a story to him. He is choosing to stay silent no more. If she can't stand up to her family and their snotty friends, he can't go through with the marriage. He needs a partner who is not afraid to fight for what's right. In the end, they discover a great deal about themselves, each other and how to make their relationship work.

What makes GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT eminently watchable is Peck's subtle and powerful performance. Phil is stunned and angry with the treatment he receives at the hands of intelligent, decent people who should know better. He's unrelenting in his quest for the truth, but never strident, which would make this 2 hour film pretty hard to bear after awhile. The supporting cast – Celeste Holm, Anne Revere and John Garfield – round out the various points of view, adding depth and intelligence to the story. Dorothy Maguire has the thankless task of being the character in the middle, the one who wants the intolerance to stop, but is too scared to put her own life on the line for the cause. Her transformation is the most important of the film because she represents the majority of society. The story pivots on her decisions and she does an amazing job walking the fine line of staying likable and keeping the audiences' respect.

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT is an intelligent, emotional film about an aspect of society that I'm sure the film maker's had hoped would be obliterated by now. It is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago and is a film everyone should check out. Unlike some of it's compatriots like SCHINDLER'S LIST, this film illuminates the horror of everyday Jewish life in a culture that persists in believing that the Jews are the reason for the worlds ills. Not a film you can watch everyday, but an important one to be experienced.



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