Gentleman’s Agreement has always struck me as an important film, rather than a great film, and if you were to rank the films in order of how serious they are, it would come in at number 2, closely behind ‘Schindler’s List’.
Gregory Peck plays Philip Green, a journalist who agrees to pretend to be Jewish in order to write an exposé on anti-Semitism in post World War II New York. The anti-Semitism in which he is interested is not the obvious examples like the Holocaust, but the small occurrences about how everyday people he meets are intrinsically anti-Semitic, even if they would consider themselves not to be racist. It’s not an easy film to watch, and one that would have forced the audience (certainly at the time) to ask themselves difficult questions.
There are good things about this film. I am a big fan of Gregory Peck, and although this isn’t my favourite Gregory Peck performance, he is solid throughout. The supporting cast are also strong, especially Celeste Holm, who is another of my favourites, and won her only Oscar for her role in this film.
Why I have placed the film fairly low down in my ranking is because the film takes itself so seriously it saps any enjoyment out of it. I am not saying that the film should be less serious, or that the issue raised in the film should be treated with any less gravitas, but this film could have been more interesting. I referred to ‘Schindler’s List’ early, and I would like to make a comparison. The character of Schindler in that film is complex. He prevented the deaths of thousands of Jews, but was still a member of the Nazi party. Philip Green seems less of a complex character to me. The film says that racism is bad and this point is hammered home through all his actions. Whenever something in the film happens you know that Green will do ‘the right thing’. When he young son (who is also pretending to be Jewish) is being bullied at school, you know that his attitude will be that the bullies are wrong. The intrinsic racism seems to be in everyone, from his colleagues to his love interest, but Peck’s character seems to deal with this in a manner that is too heavy handed and never seems to question himself.
There are films that everyone should watch because they are brilliant films, beautifully made and wonderful to watch. Then there are films that everyone should watch which although may not be brilliant films have such an interesting subject matter and force you to think. ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ fits into the latter category. I have never read the book that the film is based on, and would like to as I suspect it works better that way.