My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 62: Gentleman's Agreement (Best Picture Ranking)

Gentleman’s Agreement, a movie about anti-Semitism in America’s society after World War II presents, like Mirs. Miniver, a powerful and important message that made it impossible for Academy voters to deny it the Best Picture Oscar. After the horror of the Holocaust, the message of Gentleman’s Agreement may have been more important than ever but the movie suffers from a lot of dated aspects which hurt its overall quality but its story has still enough merit to carry it to this position in my ranking.

The movie focuses on the interesting idea of a Christian reporter pretending to be Jewish to have a personal look at the prejudices of the people around him. Like Mrs. Miniver, Gentleman’s Agreement features various characters that all stand for the possible reactions to his ‘new’ religion. His fiancée knows that he isn’t really Jewish and she tries to her best to appears as open-minded and tolerant as possible but it becomes clear very quickly that she could never stand it if Phil was actually Jewish – Cathy is not prejudiced herself but she fears the reactions of the people around her, she is one of those people that silently condemn any prejudiced behaviour but never speak out against it. Anne, a co-worker of Phil, is rather the opposite, she isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind and she sees no problem at all in Phil being Jewish. Other secondary characters demonstrate the various degrees of prejudice or even hate that Phil now has to endure.

The topic of Gentleman’s Agreement may be (unfortunately) timeless but the movie itself isn’t. Gregory Peck carries the movie adequately but he is too stiff in his acting while Dorothy McGuire also plays her role with dignity and competence but suffers from too much melodramatic and superficial acting choices. Even John Garfield, usually praised for his modern acting style, seems to sleep-walk through the picture, barely changing his facial expression or body language. It’s mostly up to Anne Revere, an expert in playing the understanding mother, and especially Oscar-winner Celeste Holm to add some truly memorable acting moments. Celeste Holm almost alone more than once rescues the production from collapsing under its own seriousness and superiority with her fresh, funny but also moving performance. Eliza Kazan may have won an Oscar for Directing and he usually produced very daring, alive and gripping tales but in Gentleman’s Agreement, he didn’t seem to do more than point the camera at some people and yell ‘Action!’. This turned Gentleman’s Agreement in an overall very stagey and stiff movie that is never really memorable for what it displays but rather for what it hints at.

The already mentioned character of Cathy wonderfully displays the problem of group pressure and the inability to stand up against open hate and prejudices out of fear to become a victim, too. Phil’s secretary changed her own name to hide the fact that she is Jewish and is very practical about it. Overall, Gentleman’s Agreement shows how a topic that actually shouldn’t matter at all suddenly turns the life of everyone involved around.

Just like Mrs. Miniver, Gentleman’s Agreement also suffers from the fact that it is not always able to bring its message across without various flaws. The character of Phil is presented so saintly and morally perfect that it’s not hard to agree with Cathy when she accuses Phil of misunderstanding her later. Besides this, a lot of moments in the movie feel incredibly slow and lifeless, either because of an overwritten and too eager screenplay, unimaginative direction or stiff actors. An important message doesn’t necessarily produce a great movie but Gentleman’s Agreement is still a powerful story that shows that, even though the Holocaust had just happened, prejudice against Jews is still an almost normal part of society. It manages to take a serious and often surprising look at this topic while often being too heavy-handed. Still, it’s an commendable effort that not only provokes but also, at least, sometimes, entertains.

1 comment:

Louis Morgan said...

I'd probably have this much lower, too heavy handed, with too many dull performances. Although I though that look Gregory Peck always gave to people being Anti-Semitic unintentionally hilarious.