I'm assuming that most of the people considering a purchase of the DVD have already seen the movie, so I'd like to focus here on the incisive commentary by Richard Schickel, long-time film critic for Time magazine. Stars June Havoc and Celeste Holm are also heard on the track, recorded separately, and while their remarks are interesting, this is Schickel's showcase, and he runs with it.
As it happened, I wound up listening to this commentary over the course of three nights. This kind of gradual exposure allowed me to really absorb Schickel's observations.
The critic is no sycophantic fan of "Gentleman's Agreement." While he admires its aims, and much of its execution (primarily the achievements of director Elia Kazan), he has some reservations about the script, and some of the acting.
He demonstrates a complete understanding of the conventions of 1940s studio filmmaking, but doesn't always accept the necessity that "Gentleman's Agreement" had to adhere to those norms. I didn't always agree with Schickel's criticisms of the film, but they certainly made me think, and I never found them off-putting.
Schickel wisely underscores the contribution of John Garfield, whose training in The Group Theater gave him a more realistic acting style than anyone else in the film. "Garfield seems to be acting in an entirely different movie," Schickel says, and it is not a criticism. The Garfield performance leads on a direct path to Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire," also directed by Kazan, and Schickel makes this clear. It is at this point that he makes the single most fascinating statement in the entire commentary, which I won't spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that it's something that may strike you as intuitive, but put into this context, becomes something of a revelation.
I've seen Web-based reviews of this DVD that criticize Schickel for doing too much plot summary. I disagree; he doesn't merely give a blow-by-blow account of what's hapening. He mentions plot points, but goes on to offer an opinion about how well the moment is conveyed, or about what real-life parallels the film is touching upon, or something else that is valuable to the viewer.
DVD commentaries just don't get much better than this.
The other extras on the disc, among them an AMC backstory presentation and a selection of 1947 newsreels, are nice additions.
The romance between the two leads is strained and the chemistry works better when thay are odds with each other. This is the first time I've seen a movie with Dorothy McGuire and while I'm sure she is good in other films, she comes acroos as wooden here. Particularly in contrast to Celeste Holm, who eats up the screen.
I also liked the back story behind the movie. There is an interesting AMC featurette included on the special edition. It very informative and the story of what happened to actor John Garfield is tragic. While this film does not resonate as a "classic" it is a very enjoyable, watchable film. Those collecting Oscar pics or who want a relativley tame film (by todays standards) about the aspects of racism could do worse.