"Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), one of the great underrated black-and-white films from the idealistic late1940s, is now available streaming from Netflix, and I urge everyone to resist the temptation of watching all of "House of Cards" all at once and choose instead to spread the pleasure over the course of a week and to interrupt the flow by taking in this well-written, well-acted film, a monument to liberalism when it had its moment as the L word of choice. Gregory Peck stars as a journalist who comes up with a new angle on exposing anti-Semitism in America. The anti-Semitism critiqued is, to use a distinction Ezra Pound would have appreciated, the "suburban" rather than the extermination kind -- the separate but almost equal approach: country clubs and hotels restricted to gentiles; anti-Semitic hiring policies so ingrained that even in New York a well-qualified person named Cohen or Finkelstein would be wise to change her or his name when applying for a job; the assumption that a smart Jew would have figured out a way to avoid combat in World War II ("were you in public relations, Mr. Green?); even Jewish anti-Semitism -- the way a Jew will cringe in the presence of a stereotypically "kikey" (i.e. loud, vulgar, pushy) member of the faith. Elia Kazan directed the picture. The sterling supporting cast includes Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, June Havoc, Anne Revere, Albert Dekker, Dean Stockwell, Sam Jaffe, and Jane Wyatt.
This is from the period when the script could make or break a Hollywood film. Moss Hart wrote this one and copped an Academy Award nominaation. The movie garnered eight other nominations and won thre, including the best picture Oscar. Eliza Kazan won for best director, and Celeste Holm deservedly took Holm an Oscar as best supportng actress (beating out the equally wonderful Anne Revere, who plays the journalist's mother). The lead was offered first to Cary Grant, who turned it down. But they got the the right star In Gregory Peck, who is to principled liberalism what Cary Grant is to suave urbanity. Peck took the role despite his agent's objections. I know he's supposed to be a wooden actor but I have always thought this an unfair characterization and if you see this movie (and "Twelve O'Clock High") I think you'll see my point.
You'll get no spoliers from me. The film is full of surprises, even if the most crucial one is given away in just about anything written about it. But here are some things you might like to know: (1) It's adapted from the best-selling novel of the same title by Laura Z. Hobson, which I read when I was fifteen and thought it was pretty good. (2) Darryl Zanuck, a gentile, who produced the movie for Twentieth Century Fox, decided to make it when he was turned down for membership in the "restricted" Los Angeles Country Club, whose management was under the mistaken belief that Zaniuck was Jewish. (3) More than a few facts about the making of the movie supports its central thesis. Samuel Goldwyn was among the Jewish movie moguls who feared that the making of the film would only stir up trouble -- that Jews would be wise not to call attention to themselves. (4) The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), associating Communism with Jew-lovers, called Zanuck, Kazan, John Garfield (real name: Julius Garfinkel), and Anne Revere to come to Washington and endure the committeee's contempt. Garfield, who refused to name names, suffered on the blacklist for a year and died of a heart attack shortly before being asked to testify a second time. He was only 39. (5) The movie's success was toasted at Los Angeles's Biltmore Hotel on December 12, 1948 with speeches and testimonials followed by an entertainment extravaganza in the hallowed Hollywood tradition. The night was capped off by the Hollywood debut of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They were a hit. -- DL