Gentleman’s Agreement is not a perfect film but it’s still a gripping story about different forms of prejudice and how it affects the lives of various people. Unfortunately, the movie is always more interesting for its ideas than its execution – this is mostly the fault of the wooden leading players Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire who are very lifeless and limited in their parts. Because of this, a natural whirlwind like Celeste Holm has it very easy to steal the show – so it’s no wonder that she is the biggest advantage Gentleman’s Agreement has and saves the whole movie from collapsing under its own seriousness.
Celeste Holm’s performance is also a great example of how the supporting category really used to be about supporting performances unlike today where it’s completely normal that co-leads dominate the supporting category. Celeste Holm has only a few scenes in Gentleman’s Agreement but her character easily becomes the most interesting aspect of it and her few on-screen moments are more than enough for her to leave an unforgettable impression. She also benefits from the fact that almost every scene she appears in asks her to be both funny and serious, something that comes very easily to her.
When she goes to dinner with Phil, she is charming and entertaining, but when a guy arrives and shows prejudice against Phil, she easily shows a more serious side – Anne is a person without a single trace of prejudice in her and won’t tolerate it from others. In a movie that lets every character deal with their own prejudices, a character like Anne could easily have come across as fake but Celeste Holm’s naturalness and seriousness make it believable that she is truly as open-minded as she appears to be. For Anne, the screenplay has another task – that of unrequited love. Celeste Holm is wonderful when she invites Phil to a party and he asks ‘Can I bring my girl?` - for one second Anne’s face drops and shows her shock (she was hoping to get Phil herself) but then she composes herself and says with a big smile ‘Of course’.
At the party, she again has to pretend a lot when Phil asks what Anne thinks about Cathy (his fiancé) and Anne, hiding her disappointment says ‘She’s lovely’. Celeste Holm delivers this line again with a lot of honesty – she does think that Cathy is lovely and she can’t hate her for having met Phil first. Other small moments, like a dinner in a restaurant, again give Celste Holm the chance to combine comedy with drama but her strongest scene comes at the end when she gives a great monologue against prejudice and tells Phil that Cathy, too, is one of those hypocrites who complains about prejudice but does nothing against it: ‘They haven’t got the guts to take the step from talking to acting.’ And then she finally tells Phil ‘There’s time. Usually when two people are right for each other they discover it with time. If I had a kid I loved I wanted him to be brought up by people who felt the same way I did about the basic things.’ It’s very moving scene and Celeste Holm plays it to perfection.
A wonderful performance that elevates a whole movie and steals the show without overshadowing anyone else.