The movie has a strange history. Darryl Zanuck decided to do this film from the novel, amidst protest(as the story goes) from Louis B. Mayer and other jewish hollyweird moguls. Jews that ran these film factories allegedly thought it too hot an issue at the time. However, it was a hit. Probably more because of it’s novelty than anything. If you haven’t seen it…I really would recommend it. Not because it is a particularly good film or performance for Peck, but it is a window into the beginnings of the “poor jew” persona that tinsel-town has been hawking ever since.
Probably what really happened is that Mayer decided to put the book to film…then found Gentile patsies to produce(Zanuck) and direct(Elia Kazan, who hated the idea of the film but had to direct it under contract) in case there was a lot of fallout from it’s subject matter. That would be my guess. But that’s as may be.
The film centers around a journalist that takes on a project concerning anti-semitism in 1940’s New England. The journalist played by Peck gets so involved in the piece that he decides to pose as a jew to experience the alleged discrimination that jews felt at the time. It’s a whiny piece of celluloid actually…with only one jew (John Garfield) actually starring in it. I remember at the time that I saw it, thinking even back then…that it was hardly fodder for a decent story.
But beyond that, the title bespeaks the entire plot. A gentleman’s agreement was one uncovered of Gentiles not allowing jews to join country clubs, stay in ritzy hotels…etc. Well, the implication was that since these poor jews were now people of means…this is the only place that they felt the bigotry…and they damned well weren’t going to stand for it. In this, it was an accurate portrayal, since it takes place as stolen jewish wealth was beginning to accumulate(again…in 1947-48) and israhell was just about to become the officially recognized headquarters for their mafia. A gentleman would not stand for that pushy behaviour. That was the storyline. Maybe this attitude portrayed by the wealthy Gentiles in the film should be revisited today.
I always loved that word “Gentleman”. To me it alludes to dignity. It refers to a man that is above many of the seedy things in life. Interesting notion. Archaic notion. Gentlemen agree on certain things. Things that have to do with morality and decency. Not implied bigotry that the film attempts to ascribe and the guilt that it lays on Gentiles for their disdain for the jewish. But that is hollyweird in it’s early days of the thousands of guilt trips it has laid on its audience.
For nothing else, this film and the simultaneously released “Crossfire” were milestones in those negative feelings that hollyweird loves to provoke. Mixing the positive connotation of the act of a gentleman, with bigotry and hatred. You could easily see these well-heeled antagonists in the film ordering the death of slaves in the south, or flipping the switch on a gas-chamber full of jews in Nazi Germany. This depiction was that obvious and divisive.
I would tend to say that few films have come out of that Southern California bar-mitzvah that are as obvious as this one…but then I think of the crap that Steven Spielberg has churned out in the name of zionism…and I hesitate.
Strangely enough, two of this movie’s actors were involved in the House Un-American Activities trials during the communist(jew)witch-hunt in hollyweird. John Garfield and Ann Revere. Garfield died before he could refuse to testify. Revere…herself a Gentile but married to jewish theater director Sam Rosen…took the fifth amendment and was blackballed for many years.
As I have re-viewed this film recently, I find myself cheering for the bad guys. I love that about older movies. Time and its record on film has given us the privilege of seeing ourselves go through changes that can actually reverse the polarity of many once-held beliefs. Back to the time when perhaps, as in this film, the feeling that was being demonized was actually the correct one. If we only knew then what we know now.
I think most Gentlemen could agree on that.