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USA 1947
Directed by
Elia Kazan
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Gentleman's Agreement

Although Gentleman's Agreement won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars it is a dated film that has very little to offer now that its subject matter – institutionalized anti-Semitism -  is effectively a thing of the past (the names Bilbo, Rankin and Gerald L. K. Smith mentioned were presumably prominent anti-Semites of the time).

It is hard to believe now that anti-Semitism was once as entrenched in mainstream middle class America as segregation was in the South but this is evidently the case in the immediate post-war period, even stranger given that the Holocaust was only a  couple of years in the past.

Gregory Peck plays recently widowed journalist Phil Green who accepts the offer of magazine publisher (Albert Dekker) to write a series of hard-hitting articles on anti-Semitism. Green comes up with the idea of pretending as a Jew (he rather uninspiredly names his article “I was a Jew for 8 Weeks”) and duly experiences anti-Semitism all around him, notably from his fiancé Kathy (Dorothy McGuire).

Moss Hart’s screenplay, adapted from a novel by Laura Z. Hobson, is a heavy-handed affair, not just in its preaching about anti-Semitism, which gives rise to slabs of soap-box oratory  and which won Celeste Holm a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her impassioned speech at the film’s end, but in the whole apple pie scenario of single-father-with-son-and-devoted-elderly-Mom-fights-for-our-founding-fathers’-values, not to mention the vexed romance as Phil comes to realize that Kathy is complicit by acquiescence, perhaps the most dramatically insightful part of the film and which still has relevance today as a critique of middle-class conformism.  That Phil seems to be a complete naïf where anti-Semitism is concerned also adds to the film’s forced “shock, horror” tone.

Peck is in familiar territory as the noble suit-and-tie warrior and Dorothy Maguire fulfills the role of the privileged fiancé well but the rest of the cast play stereotypes of one kind or another  - John Garfield as Phil’s lifelong Jewish friend, Sam Jaffe as an Einsteinian Jewish scientist and Anne Revere as the dear ol’ Mom and so on whilst Kazan's direction is unremarkable, despite the common focus on social issues, with no evidence of the realist style which would help make some of his later films such as On The Waterfront deserved classics.

 

 

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