Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Message Movie  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Richard Gilliam

Gentleman's Agreement is more interesting in historical perspective than for the qualities it places on the screen. Before World War II, there was an unspoken rule in Hollywood that anti-Semitism could only be hinted at or passingly referred to, even when the film was about an act of anti-Semitism. For example, watch the 1937 Oscar-winning Best Picture The Life of Emile Zola and see if you would notice that Captain Dreyfus, the French soldier who is wrongfully convicted, is Jewish. Gentleman's Agreement broke the barrier and allowed films to admit that racial and ethnic prejudice is more active in our society than we may want to admit. Most likely because it was breaking new ground with small, careful, deliberate steps, Gentleman's Agreement does not play as well nowadays. The characters are one-dimensional and do the sorts of things that you could easily predict that they would do. On the plus side, the performances within those one-dimensional characters are quite good, especially those of Gregory Peck and Celeste Holm, who won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. While Hollywood would go on to make better and more insightful movies about anti-Semitism, Gentleman's Agreement is important for daring to tackle the subject first. It is a solidly made, well-crafted film, and if it seems tame or weak by today's standards, then that is because we, both as a society and as individuals, know and understand much more today than we did in 1947.