Monday, November 26, 2018

Gentleman’s Agreement 1947

                    This was quite the film 71 years ago, hailed by critics, audiences and the folks who give out that little gold man. Set in a cosmopolitan New York City long gone, the film is a compelling look at anti-Semitism right after the Second World War and the annihilation of 6 million Jews. The first thing I noticed was the absence of any mention of this holocaust, Hitler, Nazis or Germany in the screenplay that was written  by the well-respected playwright Moss Hart. Produced by the big Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox who up until the mid 40’s was mostly known for it’s lavish brightly colored musicals that starred Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda they soon stumbled onto a social conscience, limited as it was but with a group of well meaning and sometimes strong neo-realist noir and problem films. These liberal movies dealt with racism, mixed race relations,  anti-Semitism and insanity many of which like Gentleman’s was based on best selling novels.                   
               This one was based on piece that was first serialized in a magazine and then turned into a novel by Laura V. Hobson that remains unread by me. The film came with high end credentials in all areas of the construction and making of the film and as I said it was written by Moss Hart. At times the screenplay is a little too severe and stagy but is still well observed especially in the give and takes and exchanges between the characters.                      
                  The direction was by the young and career hot  Elia Kazan a former actor who had like Hart made his mark on Broadway directing a couple of big dramatic hits by Tennessee Williams. The string along connect the dots plot concerns the good-looking but as usual wooden Gregory Peck who comes East from California to work on a big time magazine and brings along his supportive Ma and young son. The great character actress Anne Revere who already had an Oscar for playing a mother in “National Velvet” 2 years earlier and would shortly find herself blacklisted plays ma beautifully and her scenes with Peck are tender and real, their relationship rings true.
                The young son is also nicely played by the charming and handsome Dean Stockwell who by this time was nearly a screen veteran.  The editor of the Magazine where Peck is contracted to work is liberal and is acted by the no nonsense Albert Dekker who was also blacklisted and died a strange and mysterious death in 1968 that I won’t go into here.  Dekker suggests a piece on anti-Semitism to Peck who is Christian, but there is not much enthusiasm on Greg’s part to do such a article until a light bulb goes off, and after much soul searching and many stay up late evenings with Ma encouraging him, he hatches the idea of becoming a Jew for six months. 
                     At a party given by Dekker, Peck meets the newly divorced Cathy who is very liberal and also lovely as only Dorothy McGuire could be and they soon start an affair and plans for marriage get a hold on them.  Dorothy and Gregory begin having problems that are caused by his intense work and his deep criticism of her casual and light denouncement of Anti-Semitism and some disturbing traits she has that slowly come out. Their relationship is rocky and the sudden happy ending of the film rings hollow and false but hey  its 1947 Hollywood.
                   Also on hand in a small role as an old childhood friend who is actually a Jew (on screen and off) is John Garfield who is on his way to being discharged from the army and needs a job and a home for his family. Garfield who was also a victim of the blacklisting and died an early death some say from the hounding by the McCarthy witch-hunt. There is quite a bit of underlining and bells going off in the plot and characters, a female secretary who is played by June Havoc (sister of Gypsy) tries to hide the fact that she is Jewish, Peck is turned away from a restricted resort for being “Jewish”, a confrontation in a nightclub between Garfield and a taunting drunk anti-Semite, the teasing of Dean Stockwell by classmates (off camera) because they think he is Jewish and on and on. The best performance in the film is given by Celeste Holm who won an Oscar for her role as the fashion editor of the magazine and is tart, sassy and sophisticated and is madly in love with Peck but keeps it hidden until her final great monologue towards the end of the film. The amazing and disturbing thing about the film is how pertinent it still is after nearly 72 years.            


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