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Philip Green is a highly respected writer who is recruited by a national magazine to write a series of articles on anti-Semitism in America. He's not too keen on the series, mostly because he's not sure how to tackle the subject. Then it dawns on him: if he was to pretend to all and sundry that he was Jewish, he could then experience the degree of racism and prejudice that exists and write his story from that perspective. It takes little time for him to experience bigotry. His anger at the way he is treated also affects his relationship with Kathy Lacy, his publisher's niece and the person who suggested the series in the first place. Written by
When Phil is taking Tommy to meet his (Phil's) mother at Saks Fifth Avenue, they stop in front of the statue of Atlas outside Rockefeller Center. In the shot of the two of them talking, with Fifth Avenue in the background, Saks is directly behind them, diagonally across the street on the right, with St. Patrick's Cathedral on the left. But when Phil looks at his watch and tells Tommy they'd better leave to meet grandma, the two hurry off back north along Fifth Avenue - in the completely opposite direction of the plainly visible Saks. See more »
Are you very disappointed, Phil?
Yes, I am. I was almost sure he'd hand me the Stassen story or Washington. Oh, I wasn't looking for an easy one, Ma, but I did want something I could make good on. I'd so like the first one here to be a natural. Something I know they would read.
Oh, you mean, there's enough anti-Semitism in real life without people reading about it?
No, but this one's doomed before I start. What can I say that hasn't been said before?
I don't know. Maybe it hasn't been said well...
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Although one certainly cannot say Gentleman's Agreement is not passionate in its aim to uncover the invisible cloak of anti-Semitism in post-war America, the execution of that objective could have used slightly more dramatic tension and immediacy.
Released the same year and touching on the same subject was Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire, which dealt with anti-Semitism at its extremes: murder with anti-Semitism as the motive. Gentleman's Agreement takes a more humanistic and subtle approach--one that is too subtle at times. Where Crossfire dropped the bomb of anti-Semitism into the laps of the audience, Gentleman's Agreement gives it to you in periodic shots in the arm in the form of a sermon, and each one says the exact same thing: anti-Semitism is bad. (But we knew that.) Yes, the message is an important one, but feeding it to the audience in a manner that is literally shoving it down our throats every few minutes doesn't help the digestion any.
Also lacking in Gentleman's Agreement is a three-dimensional protagonist. Peck's crusading writer who masquerades as a Jew is simply too zealous and unswerving for his own good. He has no faults, no inner conflicts and no doubts about himself. Whether he's being shunned by bigots or Dorothy McGuire, he's such a straight-shooter you know what he's going to do before he does: the right thing right away.
There's no real dramatic arc in the story, with the entire weight of the movie resting on the torrid on-again-off-again love affair between Peck and McGuire. She symbolizes the hypocrisy and passiveness of the everyday American on anti-Semitism, and he points it out to her every chance he gets-and that's all. It pretty much rambles on the same dramatic level all throughout the picture, dividing its time between love scenes and sermons, most of which are indistinguishable from one another.
In the end, the important message and the overall entertainment value of the picture suffers from this redundancy.
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