Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Confession: I rented the movie for this:

It turns out, though, that this is a really interesting movie, highly deserving of four stars.

Gregory Peck plays a newspaper reporter named Philip Green who moves to New York with his mother and his son in order to take a new job. When his new boss asks him to take on a series of articles about anti-semitism, Green spends days debating whether or not he should take the assignment and wondering how on earth he can approach the subject in a new way that will have an impact on people. He is inspired to keep trying to find an angle by Kathy Lacy (niece of the editor of the paper with whom he is instantly smitten) and by his mom. Ultimately, Green decides to take advantage of his newness to the city and his Jewish-sounding last name and to start telling everyone that he is Jewish so that he can write about anti-semitism first-hand.

Green's first taste of anti-semitism comes very quickly after he adopts his new identity. When he tells Kathy that he is going to tell everyone he's Jewish, her face sinks, and she says something along the lines of, "But you're not really, are you?" She spends a lot of the movie wanting to tell people that Green is just pretending, so that no one really gets the wrong idea.

Green encounters everything from discrimination at work to being denied a hotel room. The movie really targeted the more subtle forms of bigotry as well, though. There was a lot about the role of the bystander in helping anti-semitism along. Green wants Kathy to help a Jewish friend of his (played by John Garfield) get a home in Darien, CT, where Kathy's sister lives, but Kathy refuses, not wanting to upset the community. It's just the way things are, she keeps telling Green. We know there's nothing wrong with being Jewish, but your friend would not be treated well there. At one point, Green's son gets called names for being Jewish. When Kathy tries to comfort him by telling him, "But it isn't true, you're no more Jewish than I am," Green becomes furious with her. He tries to explain to her that the name calling is what is wrong and what she should be fighting against. He tells her that by comforting his son in the way that she did, she confirms that there is something bad about being Jewish.

My friend Yvonne and I, while happy with Kathy's eventual realization that she needed to take an active role against bigotry, wished that Green would end up with the smart and passionate fashion editor at the paper, played by Celeste Holm. Celeste Holm, by the way, won an oscar for her role in this movie:

A sad note is that in later years, many of the people involved with this film were eventually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

A more frivolous note is that I accidentally ended up with this movie on Purim. I found watching a movie about anti-semitism to be the most fitting way I've found so far to celebrate Purim (in addition to eating hamantashen). My opinions on the book of Esther belong in a different blog.

1 comment:

Ms. Q said...

This sounds like a great movie! Perhaps a Purim tradition has been born? While it doesn't sound like the kind of movie I would watch once a week or even once a month, once a year sounds about perfect. Round it out with "To Kill A Mockingbird" on MLK day and the Guns of Navarone on Veterans' Day you'll get your recommended yearly allowance of Peck.