Best Picture: Gentleman’s Agreement

Gentleman's_Agreement_(1947_movie_poster)Phil Green: What can I say about antisemitism that hasn’t been said before?

Mrs. Green: Maybe it hasn’t been said well enough.  If it had, you wouldn’t have had to explain it to Tommy right now.

The 1947 drama Gentleman’s Agreement is a rough movie to watch.  The main character is Philip Schuyler Green, played by Gregory Peck, a reporter who moves to New York and is assigned a series of articles on antisemitism.  In trying to tackle his assignment, he decides to tell people he is Jewish, to get the feeling and experiences.  Since he knows so few people, it is an easy deception to carry out, but a harsh one to endure.

Green encounters a significant amount of resistance, from hotels that decide they have no free rooms once they discover his religion to colleagues who treat him just different enough once they hear.  His secretary is a Jew who only got the job when she changed her name from Estelle Walovsky to Elaine Wales.  His son is bullied.  His fiance, who knows of the ruse, still has problems accepting the consequences of being in a relationship with a Jew.  He has the support of his editor and mother, a colleague (who I thought would be a foe) and a Jewish friend who lends an experienced eye to the course of the movie.

As I said above, it was a rough movie to watch.  Watching people act in such a bigoted manner bugs the living hell out of me.  Some of the character learn their lessons, and some don’t, and some obviously don’t care to.  I was disappointed in some and impressed by others.  And for all the great lessons and speeches Mr. Green gives, it’s the Jewish friend who manages to wrap up all the lessons with his own experiences.

After watching a movie, I go onto Wikipedia and IMDB and read up on the movie’s production and reception.  This movie made some waves in the early days of the Cold War and the Red Scare.  Several Jewish movie makers asked that the movie not be made, and several people involved were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee (several refused to cooperate).  I found that most disturbing, that in a world learning of the horrors of the holocaust, someone would equate a work on antisemitism as being pro-communist.

Regardless of the ridiculousness of Washington, this is a very good movie and I’m glad I watched it, rough though it was to sit through.

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