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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)



Reviews and Comments

Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement is, particularly for its time, an uncommonly smart analysis of prejudice. It is about anti-Semitism, but what it has to say about it applies equally well to all races and religions that are discriminated against in society. Early on, I expected this film to make such earth-shattering conclusions as "prejudice is bad," but no, that's just where the film starts. From there, it delves into the inhuman discrimination that goes on all around us. It dwells not on those who are prejudiced but the vicious circle -- comprised in part by the good people that understand how wrong prejudice is and also by the very people being discriminated against -- that allows prejudice to endure in society.

In its exploration of these things, the film takes a strong stance, but its vision is not one-sided. All the main characters are sympathetic, even the ones it sees as (unwitting) parts of the problem.

Although anti-Semitism is not as pervasive in mainstream American society as it once was -- an inspiring fact to acknowledge when looking back upon what this film was trying to accomplish -- the more basic issues explored here are as relevant as they ever were. Still, it is interesting to note the occasional moments when the movie reveals social perceptions that have changed since 1947. Gregory Peck has a speech early on, in which he tries to teach his son to differentiate between religion and nationality, and yet the movie consistently confuses the Jewish religion with the Jewish race. These things to not detract from the movie's message or relevance; if anything, it provides us with potentially important insight into the social tides of another age.

I've concentrated a lot about the themes of Gentleman's Agreement but not so much its story. I would be remiss not to emphasize that the story here is exceptionally strong. The characters are deeply defined as individuals (there isn't one stereotype amongst the central characters, as is often the case in morality plays), and their relationships, while all are impacted by greater social issues to some degree, are unique to the individuals. The script is brilliant, and the performances are spirited without being overacted. Indeed, Gregory Peck's Oscar nominated performance ranks with the best in his career.