Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

How did Gentleman's Agreement win the Oscar for best picture in 1948?

Was this drama's win then the equivalent of James Cameron's retch fest, Titanic, besting L.A. Confidential in 1998?


The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Great Expectations (1946) (The Criterion Collection) Spine #31) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) were also nominated alongside Gentleman's Agreement.

This Oscar winner is one tough slog to sit through. Elia Kazan's film seems more interested in fancy parties, stunning locations and plenty of embraces between Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire than any serious look at anti-Semitism.

For a supposedly sharp magazine writer at the top of his game, Philip Schulyer Green (Peck) is awfully dense. It takes him about two weeks of frustration in front of his typewriter before making a startling discovery.


If he's to write a series of stories for a top New York City weekly about how some people discriminate against Jews, maybe he should pretend he's Jewish. This, coming from a character who talks about going underground so he could write convincingly about coal miners. Maybe all those cigarettes Green smokes affects his memory and how to draw readers into a story. He initially talks about accessing the magazine's research department. Hello, Philip?!?

But Green never hits the streets, as it were, to see how he'll be treated being Jewish. Instead, he clashes with his girlfriend, Kathy Lacy (McGuire), who might be anti-Semitic herself. Green's old army buddy, Dave Goldman (John Garfield), shows up in the Big Apple. He's Jewish. He needs a place to live so he can accept a much-better job. Hmmmm. Guess how easy it'll be for Garfield to find a place in this film?


That's the trouble with Gentleman's Agreement. There's nothing subtle here. Director Kazan whacks the audience over the head with a crowbar whenever he wants to make a point. A drunk bumps into Goldman in a bar. The drunk asks his name and then comments on not liking Jews? How many drunks would act like that?

There are a few bright lights here. Celeste Holm shines as fashion editor Anne Dettrey. She won best supporting actress. It's also fun to see a young Dean Stockwell as Green's son, Tommy. There's some snappy dialogue too.

But beware the speeches of America, all it stands for, and the disease that is anti-Semitism.

Gentleman's Agreement should have saved the platitudes and aimed for something grittier, and much more real.

RATING: 3/10

FUN FACTS: Jane Wyatt, who appeared in television's father knows best tv series
, appears as Lacy's sister. Most of the main cast lived to be very old, but not Garfield. He died of heart problems in 1952. He was justg 39. Holm, who turns 94 on April 29, is still active with recent credits including College Debts and Driving Me Crazy. Stockwell made his film debut in The Valley of Decision. Peck also appeared in the 1945 release. JULY 2012 UPDATE: Celeste Holm died July 15 at age 95.

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