Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

A magazine writer poses as a Jew to expose anti-Semitism.

GrooveRemote

Gentleman's Agreement is like if your church started preaching about social issues. It's just as boring, and you're just as receptive. Only they filmed a month or two's worth of sermons, put it in theatres and called it a movie.

OK, that's too harsh. This film has a story, even though it's not much more than a plain, white vehicle for the BIG, IMPORTANT SOCIAL MESSAGE that you need to know about right now! Gentleman's Agreement is about a Californian journalist by the name of Philip Schuyler (yes, I did have to Google the spelling) Greene that goes with his kid to stay with his mother in New York, and work for a big-time magazine. The first piece he's offered is an expose on antisemitism, for him to tackle from any angle. He's reluctant at first, but he warms up to the idea considerably, especially when he finds the perfect angle: pretend to be Jewish. Perhaps the primary thread throughout the film is his rocky relationship with the editor of the magazine's daughter, Cathy. She's an affluent socialite who, while disgusted with prejudice, exhibits some herself. Actually, what becomes clearer is that she doesn't have any prejudice against Jews, just that she feels sorry for them; in other words, she pities them. The thing this film does best is holding a mirror to those not necessarily overtly prejudiced or antisemitic, but vaguely and complicatedly so. Another such character is Mr. Greene's secretary, Ms. Wales, who herself is a Jew who changed her name to avoid certain roadblocks, and appears to harbour some antisemitic qualities herself. She's displaced herself from the Jewish people, and elevates herself above the more "kikey" Jews.

All of this is well and good, but the thing that fowls it all up is the style in which it's presented. Every scene is not a clip taken from everyday life, but a sermon in which the great, enlightened Greene exposes to these people their evil ways! The more intense or meaningful conversations between any two or more characters aren't that. A formula is presented early on of one character (usually Greene) shouting about this really important thing, and how any given person is doing it wrong and they have to stop it right now! There are no exchanges, just speeches. The whole thing is a mess of well-meaning but, frankly, self-indulgent rants. It's not a film trying to preach to the choir, but it's one that preaches so very loudly that all outside said choir would cover their ears in discontent.

I don't wish to dismiss the issues to which this film speaks. They're important ones, but they're far too complicated for this brand of directionless uproar. I would also call into question the lack of attention given to films on sexism or racism at the time. There were a lot more anti-Japanese thoughts and actions going around the USA at the time than there were antisemitic. I don't have any intention of making moronic "Jeweywood" comments, because prejudice of any kind is an issue, and antisemitism was at an especially frightening level at the time. Only suggesting the Academy were patting themselves on the back for being socially aware when they wouldn't give two shits about a movie about homophobia or the plight of Native Americans. But, then again, what can I really say? Social causes are, in the end, always going to be a personal thing. Principles aren't what motivate people; people build principles around self-interest. At least, that's what I'm inclined to believe.

So, there you go. Gentleman's Agreement is an often overly simplistic take on antisemitism that, while poignant, leaves me more dissatisfied with the storytelling ability involved than anything else. It doesn't really have anything interesting to say and what it does say it screams in your face.

Edit: and I don't appreciate that "don't bother with these comments. I liked it. Make up your own mind" remark someone here made. Making up one's own mind was never on the table and I suspect the reason you posted a comment like that is to say "don't listen to them because I disagree with their opinions." I applaud everyone leaving positive comments about the movie itself, but that's bullshit.

9 months ago

BareLolk

I think it's pretty good.
It's scary how relevant the message is today.

4 years ago

essaywhu

This is probably my least favorite classic film of all time, and it started the trend of preachy "social message" pictures winning the Best Picture Oscar over films that were better written and more innovative and didn't telegraph the theme of their film to you.

1947 wasn't the greatest year in film history and I am not sure any of the other contenders for Best Picture were all that great either, although I do like Miracle on 34th Street as it was a holiday staple in my house growing up. If I could pick any film to win Best Picture that year, I would have chosen either Black Narcissus or Out of the Past, both of which weren't nominated. (However, Black Narcissus did win Best Art Direction, Color and Best Cinematography, Color.)

5 years ago

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