Gentlemen's Agreement is the kind of film that overtime has developed a reputation of being a film with overly blunt messages, much like Kazan's film he would release two years later, Pinky (read my review here). As surprising as it is, Gentlemen's Agreement was a very controversial film at the time. When several of Fox's producers discovered about the film production, they demanded that film be shelved. They did not want to have to deal with anti-antisemitism so outright bluntly. They considered it to be a a subject that should be discussed and worked on quietly. However, not only did production continue, but a sequence was added based on the confrontation among the producers. However, today, Gentlemen's Agreement is the opposite of controversial.
The film names three antisemitism political figures. Darryl F. Zanuck went to meet up with lawyers to see what they could do in their defense, as the political figures were real people. Zanuck learned they would be allowed to sue Zanuck and 20th Century Fox. Zanuck was reported saying "Let them sue us. They won't dare, and if they do, nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or defendant at the trial". Ah, finally. An example of how Darryl F. Zanuck can successfully achieve something that assisted his film. Of these three politicians who were depicted in Gentlemen's Agreement, the first died shortly before the film's cinematic release, the second lost his campaign around the time of the film's release and the third did try to sue Zanuck. However, it was an immediate failure and Zanuck did not lose a cent of money.
Zanuck and Kazan had opposite reactions to the film. Zanuck felt that the film was perfect as it brought up antisemitism in a way few were aware of. He felt is was the opportune timing for the film's release, as it was during a time when there was a lot of discussion on the actual events that surpassed within the Nazi death camps. Kazan took a separate approach to the film's quality. Elia Kazan did win an Academy Award for his direction in Gentlemen's Agreement, but he still did not think of it as a good film. Much after the film's release he claimed that the film's centre romance was ridiculously forced. He did not believe the characters would actually fall in love if they were real. He also claimed part of the film's fault was because of him. Kazan claimed that he had showed no passion to the film. As it was not a sensitive issue to Kazan, the film was not deep and sympathetic enough for his liking. However, if he were to make it very personal and passionate, he would have ended up with something like his 1963 film, America, America (read my full review here).
Where does Gentlemen's Agreement stand today? Well, it is often compared to Pinky, which is not a particularly faltering comparison. The general consensus (or the gentlemen's agreement, if you will) on Gentlemen's Agreement is that it is a forced message movie. Although it is one of Kazan's most renowned movie, it has drowned over time. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, including: Best Supporting Actress (won), Best Director (won), Best Picture (won), Best Actor (lost), Best Actress (lost), Best Film Editing (lost) and Best Writing (lost). People who watch Gentlemen's Agreement can be divided into two groups of reactions. Many people may admire it's sugarcoated messages, and others may not. For that, it has mixed reviews. It currently holds a 7.3 on IMDb and a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gentlemen's Agreement lives on, but it may not be for very long.
Philip Green is a writer living with his young sun and mother. One day, he is offered to write a story on antisemitism in modern American times. However, it is not long before it dawns on him. In order to fully take on the story, he must take on the life of a Jew. So for the next six months he must pretend to be Jewish in order to get the best possible story.
As Green pretends to be Jewish his life begins to crumble. His rights are taken away from him. He cannot stay in nice hotels, he cannot attend nice parties. Philip Green learns the struggles that Jews have experienced... just for believing in their religion But can he can it all onto paper and effect the world? Can he make everyone see it, the way he sees it?
Ouch. I have never had to cover my eyes to shield them from stale acting in my entire life. There is a sequence when Gregory Peck as Philip Green is conversing with his mother. He suddenly realizes, and as he shouts out "MY GOD! I'VE GOT IT! I MUST BECOME... JEWISH!". His mother gasps and looks at him. Then begins a very painful scene of overacting. Although the entire film does not roll out in this manner, there are a few other scenes. However, Gregory Peck is awful, even though he was nominated for an Academy Award. Celeste Holm delivers an average performance that doesn't make you cringe like Gregory Peck did. Dorothy McGuire is as good as always. Her performance is slightly bland, but understandable.
Another ouch. Gentlemen's Agreement knows what it wants, however what it wants is not necessarily a good thing. I respect a film that can combine a message, with subtly. There is no combination in Gentlemen's Agreement. If I wanted to be told about the many terrible aspects of racism I would hire to people to tie me to a chair and yell into my face for two hours about how bad antisemitism is. Because that would be more subtle than Gentlemen's Agreement. I admire the fact that Gentlemen's Agreement tries, but how could I possibly admire the fact that Gentlemen's Agreement fails?
When I watch a black and white film, I love to see great cinematography. However in Gentlemen's Agreement, Elia Kazan uses the camera only to record and not to show what can be done with video photography. Although the sets are occasionally set up well to show balance in the scenes that are supposed to be balanced, they are still balanced during the scenes where Philip Green is not a balanced person. Therefore, Kazan was not reaching out in any way there. He just wanted everything to look "nice". As well, Elia Kazan fails to do anything noteworthy with the camera in order to help tell a story. His camera sits there, and then cuts. Great filmmakers use great shots, great angels to best exhibit characters' emotions, Elia Kazan acts as though that is a foreign concept to him in watching Gentlemen's Agreement, much like what he did in The Sea of Grass (read my review here). Every frame in Gentlemen's Agreement is poorly lit. Nothing in the frame is given any attempt to be emphasized, even when there are clear things that should be the focal point. With Gentlemen's Agreement, Elia Kazan proves to be much more concerned with storytelling than quality film making.
Even after all that, I found it rather difficult to crush Gentlemen's Agreement. It tried so hard to be a film to change the way people see the persecution Jews experience. I have to give it a lot of credit for putting so much effort into it, even though Gentlemen's Agreement could not make any alterations today.
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and John Garfield
1. On The Waterfront
2. Baby Doll
3. Panic in the Streets
4. Splendor in the Grass
5. East of Eden
6. A Streetcar Named Desire
7. The Last Tycoon
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
9. Viva Zapata!
12. Gentlemen's Agreement
13. Wild River
14. America, America
15. The Sea of Grass
16. Man on a Tightrope
17. The Arrangement