“Gentleman’s Agreement” Classic Film Review: 5 out of 5 Stars
By Holly Woodland
In light of a recent derogatory comment by a White House official questioning the bravery of the well-decorated Prime Minister of Israel and an ongoing rise of anti-Semitism by some of the “higher ups” in this country, it brought to mind the 1947 film classic, Gentleman’s Agreement starring Gregory Peck.
Winning three Academy Awards including Best Picture and based on a novel by Laura Z. Hobson, the film was considered controversial in its time. Directed by Elia Kazan (winning best director), the film begins as widowed journalist Philip Green (Peck) and his young son (Dean Stockwell) and mother (Anne Revere) move to New York City. Wanting to find a new angle in which to write an article on anti-Semitism, Green (Peck), along with his publisher, who are both gentiles, decide Green (Peck) should assume a Jewish identity, “Philip Greenberg”.
As we follow “Philip Greenberg” in his role as a Jewish man, he and his family encounter several incidents of bigotry and discrimination of Jews. His son is the target of bullies in school. His ailing mothers doctor suggests not consulting a Jewish specialist, till the doctor realizes the mother is Jewish and leaves her care. Kathy (Dorothy McGuire), Green’s fiancé, who knows of the article, becomes increasingly uncomfortable having to overcome discrimination within her own family. The crux of the storyline follows Kathy (McGuire) with her liberal ideology realizing her own discrimination as well. At one point she explains to the son not to be concerned with being called names, since he is not really a Jew (not that the name calling he has endured is wrong in and of itself) and although offended at derogatory comments made at a dinner party regarding Jews, she remains silent. John Garfield (in the role of Dave Goldman) delivers a compelling performance as a Jewish man and a childhood friend of Green’s (Peck) who is supportive yet very concerned for his friend, revealing the anti-Semitism he has endured. The scene with Dave (Garfeild) and Kathy (McGuire) as he explains to her that remaining silent is the same as condoning the prejudice, delivers its message still today. The charming and poignant performance of Celeste Holm as Anne Dettrey received an Academy Award as best supporting actress.
Gentleman’s Agreement brings to life the anti-Semitism of its time, however I find it relevant today as well. It might serve those at the White House and those “higher ups” to watch or revisit this classic film (in between their cries of racism and the “war on women”).