Note: this review contains spoilers.
A man and his son move from California to New York. He works as a writer, a reporter if you will, and he has just gotten offered a job. This sounds like your average 1940s setting for a comedy or a musical, or even a drama where the dad finds true love since the mom is out of the picture. But “Gentleman’s Agreement” is about anything but those things. No, this film is about racism, racism, and some more racism...
Phil Schuyler Green is a writer whose previous works has been very well-liked by the public and well received by the critics. He’s living the high life for the moment. Then his new boss asks him to write a piece on anti-semitism. Phil isn’t happy with this, he expected something with more merit than a simple ‘puff’ piece about racism. But he racks his brain over the matter, not wanting to let his new boss down. Also, he falls in love with the boss’s niece, Kathy Lacy and she’s motivating him to continue with the article.
Kathy is played by Dorothy McQuire, and she huskily whispers all her lines not really reaching a peak of emotion that is so typical of movies from this time period. She is average as far as leading ladies go, as is Gregory Peck as Phil. Neither one of them do a particularly great job for one reason, they don’t fit the character as well as they should.
Kathy makes comments about how Phil can’t seem to hide his emotions. But when you see Gregory Peck, these emotions that she’s talking about, just aren’t there. He’s like a blank slate, it’s impossible to know what he’s feeling inside because he’s bottled it all up. The script doesn’t help him in this arena either. There are a few lines that are so awkwardly phrased that they’re actually painful to hear.
But then the plot takes hold in the film: Phil decides to go undercover as a Jewish man to break open the story about anti-semitism. But here’s why this doesn’t work. It’s not like it’s too offensive or not offensive enough, it actually toes the line quite well—it’s that it beats you over the head with it. The phrase “anti-semitism” itself is in the film probably close to a hundred times. The script makes no hesitations in saying that it’s trying to be a poignant film that generates some sort of emotion.
But as the movie wore on, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with it. I appreciate what the film was trying to accomplish, but like any other medium whether it be a book or a song: it has to work. I felt beaten down and weary about how much stress was being put on how racist everyone was. They literally come out of the walls.
Everyone was nice and cheerful to Phil before he announced to the world that he was a Jew, and then all of his colleagues turn on him.
Phil has a friend that is Jewish and he confides in this friend about his article. Dave, his friend, warns him against this claiming that Jews have it the hardest of anyone. It’s such a hard life being Jewish. Then again, Dave doesn’t want pity for being Jewish, he thinks that it’s demeaning.
There is only one character in this movie that works, Anne, a smart mouthed, well dressed colleague of Phil’s. She is the best part of the film, and the only actor that won an Oscar for this movie, which was well-deserved.
But after Phil’s son is made fun of for supposedly being Jewish, Dave, tells him that he’s suffered all there is to suffer by being Jewish and that now is the time to return to being a white Christian man.
For eight weeks Phil was Jewish and then suddenly he experienced the prejudice and hostility that Dave has in his life time in an epiphany moment? I think not.
Bad ending. Bad acting. Average Movie.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars
On a side note: If you want to see a good movie about racism with Gregory Peck in it, watch “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Much better.