Today is Saturday, so it’s time to publish another 100 New Code Films article. This is the first article in this series from October. We publish two of these articles every week, in all but four weeks of 2020. The goal is to reach 100 film reviews in the course of this series. All the movies I review in this series are American Breen Era (1934-1954) films which I have seen for the first time.
Today’s topic is Gentleman’s Agreement from 1947. This movie is on my list of films to see during 2020, since it won two prominent Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Director. I am aiming to watch all the winners of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress which I have not yet seen during this year. When I heard about Rebecca Deniston’s Atticus and Boo Blogathon, I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to watch this Gregory Peck film. I watched this movie on Wednesday night on Amazon Prime Video.
A widowed journalist goes to New York City with his mother and young son to start a job with a new newspaper. He is disappointed when his assignment is a series on anti-Semitism, having hoped for a bigger news story. He struggles to find an interesting angle on the well-known topic. Meanwhile, he meets the editor’s niece, a beautiful divorcee who came up with this idea. After his mother has a small heart attack, the journalist comes up with a great angle for his series. To gain an understanding of the prejudice which Jews experience, he decides to pass himself off as a Jew. When interacting with his co-workers, a lovely female fashion editor, his Jewish best friend, and even the editor’s niece, who becomes his fiancée, he realizes that even “nice” people often unintentionally indulge in prejudice. During his six-week experience, he learns a lesson that he can never forget.
This movie stars Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and John Garfield. Supporting actors include Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, June Havoc, Albert Dekker, and Dean Stockwell.
This movie was directed by Elia Kazan. It was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. The production company was 20th Century-Fox. The screenplay was written by Moss Hart. It comes from the best-selling novel of the same name by Laura Z. Hobson. This film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Actress for Dorothy McGuire, Best Supporting Actress for Ann Revere, Best Screenplay for Moss Hart, and Best Film Editing for Harmon Jones. It won three Academy Awards, which were Best Picture, Best Director for Elia Kazan, and Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm.
This is a poor Code film. I want to say that it is a perfect Code due to the excellent, bold handling of a very difficult topic. I would classify it as perfect except for one unalterable objection, divorce and remarriage. Since the leading lady, Kathy Lacy (Dorothy McGuire), is divorced when the film begins, her romance with and engagement to Phil Green (Gregory Peck) automatically classifies this film as poor. Also, their kissing is a bit prolonged, although not necessarily Code violating. I was especially appreciative of this film’s Code compliance because it was directed by Elia Kazan. He was notorious for making controversial and difficult to breen films during the Breen Era, like A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954) and real trouble-making films during the Shurlock Era, like East of Eden (1955) and especially Baby Doll (1956). I was glad to see that, although this film tackles difficult social issues like prejudice and bigotry, it doesn’t include questionable moral issues.
I highly recommend this film. I was very impressed by the unflinching stance on racial prejudice which the film presents. This topic is particularly timely right now, while our nation is embroiled in debates about racial equality and justice. Instead of simply victimizing Jews and villainizing Gentiles, this film presents the complex tangle of interrelations which creates prejudice. It doesn’t just focus on “the poor, poor Jews.” This story shows that anti-Semitism is just part of the bigger problem of prejudice and division undermining the American principle that “all men are created equal.” It is compounded by Jews, who refer to other Jews as “kikey ones,” as well as Gentiles, who assume that Jews are one thing or another. The story was dramatically portrayed by this gripping film. The acting is excellent. Gregory Peck leads the entire cast with his stirring performance as Phil Green. Dorothy McGuire gives a multifaceted performance as his leading lady, a woman torn between her beliefs in equality and her personal prejudices. The third side of the triangle is fashion editor Anne Dettrey (Celeste Holm), one of the only characters who is truly unbigoted. She loves Phil for who he is, regardless of whether he is Jewish or not. She truly deserves her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Dean Stockwell gives a powerful, moving performance as Phil’s young son, Tommy. He displays a great depth of emotion, as always. John Garfield plays an important supporting part as Dave Goldman, Phil’s childhood friend. This dynamic performance creates contrast between a real Jew and someone just pretending to be a Jew. Mrs. Green (Anne Revere) is very good as Phil’s firm but loving mother. My main criticism of this movie is the shortness of its scenes and the abruptness of its fade-outs. It seemed like every scene was no longer than two minutes and ended by suddenly fading out, a style which reminded me of early talkies from 1930-32. This disrupted the continuity and smoothness of the picture’s flow, but it also kept it from lagging.
For the Blogathon
This is my entry in The Atticus and Boo Blogathon, hosted by Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room. This is the earliest role played by the great Gregory Peck which I have ever seen. He is really moving, powerful, and emotional in this role. He embodies different characteristic during the runtime. At first, he is a journalist; since I am a writer for newspapers myself, I can relate to this aspect of the character, including struggling with editors, working toward deadlines, and coming up with a good angle. Later, Phil becomes so invested in his pretend identity as a Jew that he seems to forget that it is only a ruse. In fact, he is so deeply invested that we as the audience forget that he is not really Jewish. This film, particularly Gregory Peck’s performance, gives us a glimpse of what it would be like to fill another person’s shoes, if only temporarily. I’m glad to say that this Best Picture winner is an enjoyable film.
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