Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Moss Hart

This seems like a fairly daring film for the studio system to produce at this time, Crossfire too. Given the social climate that they were released in, anti-Semitism very much still a factor in all walks of life, for them to release something like this that argues so eloquently against it is impressive. The film itself has a simple enough plot. Phil Green (Gregory Peck) is a writer and his new task is to write a series on anti-Semitism. He struggles at first until he finds his angle: he’ll become a Jew. He is new to New York so no one but a few people know he is not a Jew, so he chooses to convince everyone he is and see what kind of reception he gets. To no surprise he encounters massive amounts of anti-Semitism. The struggle arises when his new girl, Kathy (Dorothy McGuire), reacts somewhat negatively to everything that is going on. She clearly is not an anti-Semite, the series was her idea afterall, but she certainly seems apprehensive about everything that is going on, not comfortable with living within the relationship as it stands with Green as a Jew.

The moral of the story becomes Kathy’s story. There are too many people in the world, in the country who are against anti-Semitism, yet do not have the backbone, are too scarred with the consequences of standing up against it. And as such, as Phil and his longtime Jewish friend Dave (John Garfield) put it, they are perpetuate it and do nothing to bring it to an end. Even Phil’s son Tom is affected by playing along. He gets verbally assaulted and left out of a game of hop by his schoolmates. This is when Phil realizes the extent to which anti-Semitism can hurt, when it gets to your kids. But Tom holds his ground and does not give in by revealing his true identity, which Phil says would have given his schoolmates so sort of validation in the fact that it is a bad thing to be a Jew.

The film is quite powerful and very real. I myself am not a Jew and I myself have not encountered any anti-Semitism first hand, though I have an Aunt and Uncle and a few cousins who I am sure have. All of these things are historically accurate. Jews were kept out of jobs, apartments, restaurants and hotels simply because they were Jewish. People did struggle to stand up for what they believed in and the hatred went on still. The film does a great job of identifying these things and bringing them to live, bringing them to the forefront. As for the romance in the film between Phil and Kathy, it was very nice. The filmmakers explored the various aspects of the relationship and not just how it was strained by the circumstances, but who is with me? Who thinks Anne (Celeste Holm) still should have ended up with Phil? She was clearly the better match in my mind. But oh well, I guess that is just the way Hollywood works, give everyone redemption and happiness in the end. Anne may not have had it in the film, but Celeste did when she took home the Oscar.

Commentary on Anti-Semitism

Yet another goldmine as this film deals with nothing but anti-Semitism it seems. What I can take most from this is the moral of the story, good people sitting by the wayside with their thoughts of anti-Semitism being bad, yet doing nothing about it. It is a good examination of how people react so differently when nothing except religion has changed. It kind of takes the meaning right out of the First Amendment which says that each citizen has the freedom of religion, especially when they are “restricted” from nice hotels like the Flume Inn. That whole scene will find its way into my paper for sure, especially since we have read a document that notes this very phenomenon of New York Jews being barred from various vacationing spots in the area. Again, like Crossfire, the time period is interesting as well, coming right out of a war that saw the “bad guys” exterminate 6 million Jews.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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