on April 8, 2004
Kudos to Fox Home Entertainment for a very satisfying DVD presentation of "Gentleman's Agreement," the 1947 Best Picture Academy Award winner. The film itself is deserving of all of the accolades it received, both upon its initial release, and in all the years since.
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.
I'm a big fan of Gregory Peck and as usual, he did a good job in this film.
Unfortunately, the story itself seems dated watching it now, with rather "cheesy" dialogue especially in the scenes with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire. I did enjoy Celeste Holms though, she played her part beautifully and believably.
The sound was poor on this film, went from soft to very loud several times, picture quality was excellent.
***SPOILER: I thought the ending was surprising and in a bad way.
What Celeste's character says previously about the "Cathy's" of the world was true. Why would Greg Peck go running back to a woman who had shown her lack of real backbone re: prejudice, again and again. The token gesture to make things "right" that she made at the end of the film seemed so shallow and almost worthless. Forgive her perhaps, but want to marry her? I think not.
Gregory should have been running back to Celeste!!! That was a woman of passion and conviction and much more in line with the kind of person he was. That did not ring true at all for me, given the nature of the overall story and Gregory Peck's character.
I'm surprised this won several Academy Awards but I guess at the time, it was considered a ground-breaking film. Celeste Holms did deserve her Oscar though, she was wonderful!
on March 26, 2003
Winning the best picture Oscar for 1947 comes the story of a journalist who poses as a jewish man for six months to find out how deep anti-semitism runs in New York City. When the film came out, it was considered controversial. I say more power to the film and was glad it was made. However, keep in mind the film is over 55 years old and while the issue of racism is valid even today in some parts of the country, it comes across as somewhat outdated. The saving grace is the script. It manages to inform without pontificating and really hits on a surprising amount of aspects. Example of a great exchange:
"Why, some of my best friends are jewish"
"And some of your best friends are methodist also. But you don't make a point of saying that, do you?"
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.
on February 28, 2003
Elia Kazan's 1947 film Gentleman's Agreement is the story of a journalist who is employed to write a series of articles on the scourge of anti-Semitism in America. The journalist, Phil Green, is played by Gregory Peck and in order to get his information first hand, he poses as Jew. He encounters all forms of prejudice and his blooming romance with the niece of his publisher takes a hit. Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) insists that she harbors no ant-Semitic feelings finds that through her association with Green, that such prejudices bubble underneath the surface. John Garfield gives a standout performance as Green's lifelong friend, Dave Goldman, who has experience prejudice his whole life and has learned to be philosophical about man's failings, but still is willing to fight against blind ignorance as noted in a gripping scene where he is denied a room in a swanky hotel by an unbearable snooty desk clerk who refuses to admit the reason he won't give Dave a room is that he is Jewish even though it is obviously apparent that is the reason why. Celeste Holm won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as a fashion writer and socialite who is attracted to Green and heavily pursues him. The film was ground-breaking at the time of its release as it was the first Hollywood movie to tackle anti-Semitism head-on. Prior to World War II, it was an unspoken rule that anti-Semitism could only be hinted at even if a film like The Life of Emile Zola was about it. But over the years, the film has lost a lot of its power and it isn't aided by the fact that many of the characters are stock profiles that exude a one-dimensional feel. Despite that fact, it still is an important film and one that can still teach a lesson as well as entertain. Mr. Kazan won the first of his two Best Directing Oscars and the film won Best Picture in 1947.
on February 27, 2003
In "Gentleman's Agreement" Gregory Peck stars as Philip Green/Greenberg, a reporter impersonating a Jew in order to gain first hand knowledge into anti-Semitism. At first, snubs seem quite subtle and harmless. But as the film progresses the seething underbelly of dissension against the Jewish faith begins to rear its ugly head. Dorothy McGuire costars as Kathy, his waspish girlfriend who struggles with her own built-in anti-Semitism. John Garfield offers a startling and poignant cameo as Dave Goldberg, while Celeste Holm turns in another fine performance as Anne Dettrey, the only cast member seemingly untouched by prejudice. The film also costars Anne Revere, as Philip's mother, and Dean Stockwell as his son. Despite excellent source material from the novel by Laura Z. Hobson, and the directorial reigns handed over to one of Hollywood's best, Eli Kazan, the resulting film is heavy-handed and tiresome in spots. The plot never quite surpasses its very theatrical staging and the performances, particularly McGuire's are stiff and uninspiring.
Fox already released this title as a movie only disc, without the making-of featurette. Now, as part of its Studio Series "Gentlemen's Agreement" continues to suffer from digital anomalies which plagued the original transfer. However, whereas the old transfer seemed to falter during the latter half with excessive film grain and shimmering of fine details, it is the first hour or so of this re-release that is riddled with edge effects, aliasing, pixelization and digital grit. As far as extras are concerned, this DVD offers little more than a brief back story featurette, audio commentary and theatrical trailer.
on January 16, 2003
I thought this movie was really good. I think that it really did look at almost all sides of racism. It illustrated the way that racism does not just affect the person it is directed at but everyone in your family and all of society. Though this may seem like an obvious point, this movie does a really good job expressing this point throughout the whole society. Though probably the least well-acted character, the character played by Dorothy McGuire was one of the best characters as she was not "a bad person" but like many was sincerely glad that she was white, not because she wanted Jewish people and other minorities alike to not be treated fairly but she admitted that she was glad that she did not have to go through the same things simply because of the color of her skin. I think that this movie showed this well. I think that this movie successfully illustrated how it is not one person's fault and everyone isn't stereotypical (white, Jewish, etc. alike)and but through each person acting, however small the action, they can help start a change by breaking down these stereotype of all groups. I thought this movie was very good and though some acting might not be as good as it could of been, I would recommend it to anyone as it is still done very well and was sincere and open from almost every viewpoint.
on January 3, 2002
A little less than a decade earlier Twentieth Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck tackled the subject of lynch law injustice in "The Ox Bow Incident." In 1948 he battled anti-Semitism with equally brilliant results in "Gentleman's Agreement," which starred Gregory Peck and was directed with a stellar hand by Elia Kazan.
Peck plays a New York magazine writer who decides to do a comprehensive study of what it is like to live as a Jew. One of the film's most powerful scenes occurs when Peck, giving the name he is using for his investigation, Green, is turned away when he seeks to register at a prominent hotel, with a policy of turning away Jews. He learns much as well about the struggle of Jewish Americans in interacting with his friend John Garfield, an Army officer with much insight to reveal.
His involvement in the controversial experiment and ultimately expose causes Peck problems with his girlfriend Dorothy McGuire. Eventually she sees the light and recognizes an important truism as she states that at least in the cases of anti-Semitic bigots one knows where one stands. She observes the more outwardly subtle problem of people on the one hand proclaiming themselves as liberal and without prejudice, but also playing it safe and refusing to stand up for injustice when it occurs, such as when anti-Jewish jokes are told at cocktail parties or slights are observed which stem from bigotry and nothing is said.
"Gentleman's Agreement" was a bold step forward for Hollywood in facing up to realities in post-World War Two America. Zanuck and Kazan would also tackle the subject of race in the sensitively done "Pinky" with Jeanne Crain one year later in 1949. Crain is a young woman with African American blood who attempts to pass for white in a society affected by racism.
on January 17, 2001
It's a great film, superbly acted all the way by an excellent cast (specially Anne Revere and Celeste Holm), serious viewing, some very good dialogues and wisecracks, the latter by the great Celeste Holm. My only regret, focusing not in the main antisemitic issue of the film but in the "romantic relationships" shown in the movie, is the ending...Peck should have chosen the sincere, sophisticated, wisecraking blonde, not the inane, wishy washy, stuffy and complicated socialité. It seems that in those conventional days, characters like the one played by Miss Holm, independent women of the world with careers, self-assured, with opinions of their own....were not meant to be the heroines, nor to get the hero at the end...because of the way of life they had chosen, they were condemned ("cinematically" speaking) to eternal singlehood, 'cos that way of being didn't fit with the ideal of married or unmarried (goodness!) so-called "ideal" couples....maybe in 1932 this wouldn't have been so...(for more information read Mick LaSalle's excellent "Complicated Women" and compare this to movies of that era focusing on couple's relationships like "The Animal Kingdom" (1932), "The Divorcée" (1930) or even "Design for Living", the latter a sort of "threesome" predecessor of Gregg Araki's 1999 "Splendor").
on July 2, 2000
This study of anti-semitism in post WWII American society won academy awards for best picture, best director (Elia Kazan), and best supporting actress (Celeste Holm). It's somewhat dated, and parts of the script come off more as speech-making than actual dialogue, but it's still a good cinematic examination of this important issue. Gregory Peck stars as a magazine writer who poses as a Jew in order to attain an in-depth 'angle' on his assignment. The prejudice that he encounters as a result of his research affects the life of his son, played by a very young Dean Stockwell, and his budding romance with his boss's niece, played by Dorothy McGuire, who learns that she's not as liberal as she thought. The supporting cast is outstanding, notably Anne Revere as Peck's compassionate, no-nonsense mother, Albert Dekker as a tough, plain-spoken magazine boss, Oscar winner Celeste Holm as a writer with keen insights into human foibles, and, especially, John Garfield as Dave Goldman, Peck's long-time friend who's just back from WWII service. He passes on insights to Peck drawn from a lifetime of personal experience, and his performance, is, for me, the soul of the film. This may not be the definitive film on anti-semitism, but it's still a rewarding experience for anyone interested in seeing a well-written and superbly acted film dealing with a serious social problem.
on June 21, 2000
"Gentleman's Agreement" tells the story of a Gentile writer (Gregory Peck) who poses as a Jew in order to get a good 'angle' on the issue of anti-semitism in Post WWII American society. His method proves almost too effective and causes problems for his young son, played by a very young Dean Stockwell, and in his relationship with a young woman (Dorothy McGuire), who finds out that she's not as liberal as she thought. Peck and McGuire are fine in their leading roles, but the film gains great depth from its outstanding supporting cast. This includes Anne Revere as Peck's no-nonsense mother, Albert Dekker as a tough, plain-speaking magazine boss, Celeste Holm as a fashion writer with a keen insight into human foibles, and Sam Jaffe in a memorable cameo as a distinguished scientist with a sharp sense of humor. The most compelling of the supporting performances, however, is that given by the great John Garfield. He plays Peck's life-long friend, who has just returned from war-time service in Europe. His role is actually not much more than a cameo, but his performance is the soul of the film. With painful clarity, he tutors his old friend in what it's like to be Jewish in a way that comes from his own lifetime of experience. He's not bitter or strident. On the contrary, he relates his advice and anecdotal evidence to Peck in a way that is heart-felt, insightful, and matter-of-fact. "Gentleman's Agreement" may not be the definitive treatment of this important social issue, but I think the film holds up very well after more than a half-century. The picture won Academy Awards for best director (Elia Kazan), best picture, and supporting actress Celeste Holm. It's not a perfect film, but its heart is definitely in the right place. This picture can be a rewarding experience for movie fans who appreciate fine acting and serious story-telling.