Tuesday, September 7, 2010

1947: Gentleman's Agreement

Philip Schuyler Green is a magazine writer who's just moved to New York.  His new boss asks him to write a series about anti-Semitism.  After desperately trying to find a good angle for several weeks, Phil decides to tell everyone that he is Jewish so that he can watch for their reactions.  He instantly notices a difference in the way people talk to him and treat him.  His new socialite fiancee, who came up with the idea for the series because she hates anti-Semitism, is in on the plan, but she and Phil soon come to realize that even anti-anti-Semitists can fuel discrimination by letting it happen.

I really, really liked this film.  I am used to watching films from this era, and they generally avoid focusing on bigotry and prejudice.  Films were almost exclusively about how white, Protestant Americans solved their problems.  Judaism was pretty much a taboo subject in 1940s Hollywood; ironic, since most of the studio moguls of the time were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Even more ironically, it was one of the few non-Jewish producers, Darryl F. Zanuck, who decided to make a statement with this film.  And it worked.  This film is very powerful and well-made.  The writing is fabulous.  The acting is superb: starring Gregory Peck and featuring Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, and other amazingly talented artists all giving incredible performances.  I think it helped that they all knew they were doing something profound, so they gave it their all.

Most importantly, this film is believable.  It's about real people who face important problems that no one else wants to talk about.  It makes a point, but it's not just ramming a message down our throats; it tells an engaging story as well.  I also love how it covers all sides of the issue: the discriminators, the people being discriminated against, the people who do something about it, and the people who let it happen.

This is definitely my new favorite film that I hadn't seen before embarking on this project, and it may even be one of my favorite films period.  If nothing else, at least watching the Best Picture winners has allowed me to discover this film.  And I shall follow it with the 1948 version of Hamlet (which I'm sure is another nice, short, uplifting, light-hearted movie, like so many on this list...right?).

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