JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Gentleman's Agreement (Director: Elia Kazan) - June 20, 2016

Gentleman's Agreement

3.5 3.5
118 min.

A different kind of war

How curiously chilling it is to see the 1947 Best Picture with its anti-Semitism plot and concluding notion that the 20th century might well become “everyone’s century,” and that an epidemic of equality and freedom would turn the planet into a garden of peace and tolerance even as death and destruction continue to wantonly abound and the U.S. presidential election is fuelled by blatant bigotry, rampant ignorance and a race to the bottom of two disliked candidates.

The black-and-white images from Arthur C. Miller’s all-knowing lens are at one with the narrative (Moss Hart’s screenplay based on Laura Hobson’s novel): both lack vital shades of grey (but no worries: everyone smokes—even the doctor as he offers his medical wisdom), filled with characters (largely “you’re with me or you’re against me”) and far too many predictable scenes to underscore the themes of pushed-away truth and rampant hypocrisy.

The principals (Gregory Peck as Phil Green, the intrepid “Jew for 8 Weeks” features writer; radiant Dorothy McGuire in fine puzzlement as the all-thought-no-action defender of liberty; John Garfield perhaps a tad too easygoing and debonair as the Jew who’s seen and felt it all) admirably carry the film but the best performances are in the supporting roles. Leading the pack is Celeste Holm’s wonderfully varied portrayal of Smith’s Weekly social columnist, Albert Dekker’s pitch-perfect tone and manner as the publisher who must face the ugly realization that there are those on his staff who most certainly do not practise what he preaches and Anne Revere’s solid performance as Phil’s not-yet-ready-for-the-grave mother.

Pretending to be what you are not in order to expose others for the disturbing, often hateful treatment of their presumed “lessers” feels more like entrapment than first-rate journalism in the 21st century. And as the curtain prepares to fall with a sudden burst of hope, America’s bedrock of equality and freedom seems just as precarious then as it does today. But without anyone to look down upon or mock, what’s an obviously superior person to do? JWR

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