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Gentleman's Agreement: Fox Studio Classics

Adapted by Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson's best-selling novel, the title of 1947's Gentleman's Agreement refers to the unspoken agreement among gentiles to discriminate against Jews — a not-so-subtle form of persecution prevalent in the years immediately following World War II. Gregory Peck plays journalist Philip Schuyler Green, assigned to write an expose on anti-Semitism. At first, Green isn't sure what tack to take, but his writer's block vanishes when he hits on the idea of pretending to be Jewish himself. Being fairly new to New York City, having moved there with his young son, Tommy (11-year-old Dean Stockwell), he introduces himself to new acquaintances as Phil Green, a writer and a Jew. Tommy is soon battling schoolyard bullies and even Green's uppercrust girlfriend, Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) — who's in on the secret — finds herself getting peeved at him because of the heat she's getting from her snotty Connecticut pals. Sneered at, turned away from hotels, and treated as an object of scorn, Green gets more than he bargained for, and the film addresses the question of what society can do about the seemingly ingrained tendency towards religious intolerance. Winner of Oscars for Best Picture, Director (Elia Kazan) and Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm), Gentleman's Agreement today is as noteworthy as a historical curiosity as it is classic cinema. Non-Jewish producer Darryl F. Zanuck was actively discouraged from making the film, which had been passed over by virtually every studio in town (studios which were run, interestingly enough, by Jewish executives). The policy of simply not talking about discrimination was upheld at the highest levels in Hollywood — even by immigrant studio execs who themselves were denied membership in Los Angeles country clubs. Director Kazan — who chose, ironically, to provide names to the House Un-American Activities Committee a few short years later — obviously invested a great deal in this film, directing the actors with his usual deft hand and managing to make the unrelenting preachiness both artful and compelling. The marvelous John Garfield (Body and Soul, The Postman Always Rings Twice) made the brave choice of playing Green's Jewish friend, Dave Goldberg, who's had a lifetime to adapt to the intolerance that Green is only just discovering. Born Jules Garfinkle, Garfield changed his name for professional reasons; hard as it may to understand today, his taking this role was a courageous act. Indeed, it may be virtually impossible to watch the film now and comprehend how important is was in 1947 — to the modern eye it all seems to be a well-crafted but obvious moral lesson, delivered passionately but without subtlety. Yet even as patently obvious as the message seems to be, the issues still haven't been resolved more than 50 years later — perhaps being jaded about prejudice is every bit as insidious as quietly sweeping it under the carpet. Fox's DVD second DVD release of Gentleman's Agreement, part of the "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, offers a very clean, full-frame transfer (1.33:1) and Dolby Digital audio in either stereo or mono. A commentary track features film critic Richard Schickel, Celeste Holm, and June Havoc; all three were recorded separately, with Havoc's and Holm's comments wedged here and there into Schickel's smug, non-stop blather. Schickel, author of a book on Elia Kazan, talks and talks and talks, and occasionally offers an insight into the making of the film — but, annoyingly, mostly just describes what's happening on-screen. Also on-board is an AMC "Backstory" documentary (24 min.) that offers a slick overview of the film's background and historical context; in addition to clips and archival footage, there are interviews with people who, frustratingly, are never identified. You may recognize producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck (if you know what they look like, that is), and Celeste Holm, of course, and, well, John Garfield's daughter refers to him as "my father" so you know who she is — very annoying. There is, however, an interesting older clip of Elia Kazan telling an interviewer that he has no regrets about testifying before HUAC — and that he'd gladly do it again. Also on board are two Movietone newsreels about the 1947 Oscars, a stills-gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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