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 »
Pop, are we Jewish? Jimmy Kelley said we were. Our janitor told his janitor.
Well, what did you tell Jimmy Kelley?
I said I'd ask you.
Well, it's like this. Remember that movie Kathy and I took you to, and you asked if things like that really happened?
Kathy said they were pretending.
Well, I'm pretending I'm Jewish for something I'm writing.
You mean like a game?
Yes, but I'd appreciate it if you promised not to tell anybody it's a game.
Okay, Pop, sure.
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I love this film, though it has faults. It isn't very lively or humorous, and some parts are just plain baffling. Peck is supposed to be the moral spokesman, but so many of the other actors--John Garfield, Dorthy McGuire, Dean Stockwell, Celeste Holm, Sam Jaffe--suggest less priggishness/puritanism and more humanity/warmth than he does. How can we think him morally superior when he comes across like a sulking browbeater? I wish a Spencer Tracy or even a James Stewart had played his role. Sometimes, I feel like saying, "Lighten up, Greg! Say, did you ever here the one about the Rabbi and the three bellydancers? You'll love it."
Nor is it just the casting. Many of Anne Revere's lines make me wince with their naivety, and I think she has the most embarrassing role in the movie. However, I really hate the scene when Peck berates his secretary, June Havoc, basically telling her that the only thing that differentiates a Jew from a Christian is just a word--as if cultural and ethnic differences didn't exist or matter.
I could go on, because I think I know this film's faults as well as any of its critics. However, the movie's virtues obviously outweigh its shortcomings and dated moments. In fact, after over sixty years, not one other Hollywood film confronts bigotry as intelligently as this one. That's right; not one. Why? Because every other one deals only with bigotry in the extreme--and the result is they don't really attack bigotry, they attack violence. Many bigots who keep their kids out of culturally diverse schools can watch MISSISSIPPI BURNING, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, CROSSFIRE, etc., and can self-congratulatingly say to themselves, "Well, that's not me; I know I'm not a racist." Of course, violent prejudice is the worst form there is, but, in case you didn't know, it is not violent prejudice that minorities confront on a daily basis. It is the unspoken, insensitive attitudes that GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT is brave enough (and unique enough) to attack. Despite its dated moments, it's no wonder this movie raises nervous hairs to this day. It makes one actually wonder: is it wrong to tell a politically incorrect joke? Those who think the answer is simple, please think again.
Some have commented that they don't understand what the title refers to and it is significant. A gentleman's agreement is one made without writing or even speech--an agreement that's understood or assumed to be understood. In regards to the film, the term refers to those innumerable bigots who so unthinkingly assume that their prejudices are agreed upon. Speaking as a member of the U.S.'s privileged minority (a white, anglo-saxon, Protestant heterosexual male), I can attest that all of the sexist, racist comments I have had to hear have always been spoken by someone who silently assumed that I would agree with him, making it a gentleman's agreement. The movie, of course, says it's time to break the agreement. A lot of people didn't like such a message when the film came out, and a lot of them don't like it now.
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