A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1947 – Gentleman’s Agreement
That’s what this one is about.
Take that, Hitler.
I mean, granted, every year in film history is represented by Jews (right, Mel?), but this film really takes the cake on that.
This film is why I avoided a lot of social problem films thus far. Because this film is really the big one of them all.
Anti-semitism was a big deal in the 40s. And I’m actually not even talking about the whole 6 million dead thing. Even after that, it was still a huge deal. Okay, think about how bad slavery was. Now, on the other side of the coin, all over the world (since at least there were parts of the country where people were against slavery. And other parts of the world where it just didn’t happen), and even still (there are countries that STILL are rampant with anti-semitism), culturally people would just despise Jewish people. It’s the black mark on society that no one seemed to ever want to talk about. And the fact that this movie came out and was about what it was about was truly brave and truly groundbreaking. It brought something people whispered about and knew but never mentioned right out in the open. And in 1947, that was a huge, huge deal.
It’s a pretty revolutionary concept. A guy wants to root out every day anti-semitism by telling everyone he’s Jewish, even though he’s not. There are some amazing scenes in the film, my favorite being the one where Peck shows up at a very WASP-y hotel and says, “Oh, by the way, my actual name is Greenberg,” and the guy very artfully denies him entrance into the hotel, despite his having a reservation, and won’t admit it’s because they don’t allow Jews into the hotel. I also love how open the film is about everything. There’s a scene where he says about ten racial slurs, flat out. “Kike,” and “coon” and “nigger.” Gregory Peck says them all. And that’s a big deal. You have to get words out in the open, especially when it’s in a helpful sense. I also love how he manages to show his girlfriend that simply by allowing other people to offhandedly say anti-semitic things, that’s just as bad as actually having hatred toward Jewish people.
It’s a really frank movie, and really does hold up, almost 70 years later. It’s a terrific film. And having this here is my way of incorporating the big “problem” films of the 40s, like The Lost Weekend.
In terms of 1947, no film had as big a cultural and societal impact as this one. It was one of the top ten grossers of the year, and you can tell Hollywood realized how big a deal it was, because not only did another film about anti-semitism (a B movie, to boot!), Crossfire, get nominated for Best Picture, but other executives went up to Darryl Zanuck and actually begged him not to make the movie. Everyone thought they’d be endangering their careers making this, because it was such a controversial (and rampant) topic.
This is a hugely important film in terms of film history, and there is no better example of what was going on in film in 1947 than this one.