“Gentleman's Agreement” won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress Celeste Holm.
After WWII, the climate seemed right for producers and studio heads such as Fox' Darryl F. Zanuck to seek out properties with socially conscious themes, perhaps because after producing a spate of action-oriented war films that pitted one country against another, it seemed natural to turn to more common ground and dramatize some home-grown problems. Not that anti-Semitism was a new problem, but while some on the DVD's commentary track argue "Gentleman's Agreement" ignores Europe's persecution of Jews during the war, the ploy gives the problem a more local focus, dramatizing anti-Semitism in New York City and its suburbs while the more exotic and detailed Nuremberg trials played on TV.
Based on a best-selling novel by Laura Z. Hobson, "Gentleman's Agreement" was adapted by one of Broadway's top playwrights, Moss Hart, and directed by newcomer Elia Kazan. The DVD's commentary track assembles segments by supporting actresses June Havoc and Celeste Holm, with a largely continuous contribution from TIME magazine film critic Richard Schikel. The results often play like breezy anecdotes, with occasional punchlines from the ladies, such as the history of Kazan's nickname, "Gadge" (for "Gadget"), which Havoc pretty much uses throughout her recollections.
While not overly detailed - a bit surprising, since Schikel directed a documentary on Elia Kazan - there's some decent background on the film's director and cast, and Schickel's real strengths lie in his familiarity with the director's work, placing the film in its historical context as a risky studio venture, and his personal observations on Gregory Peck's interpretation of a crusading journalist. Peck's a bit too serious for Schickel (even Holm admits the actor lacked a sense of humour during filming), but the film's magazine and writer depictions are pretty accurate for the time, including corporate attitudes towards hiring Jews and visible minorities. Schickel also picks apart Hart's screenplay, complimenting several intimate family and couple exchanges, and citing wryly several chunks of "message" dialogue which reveal the screenwriter's theatrical roots. Though the film and its message of tolerance has aged very well, Schikel's preoccupation with Hart's "stiff dialogue" becomes quite funny, and you realize how good casting can make problem dialogue just breeze on by.
An episode of "Backstory" adds some depth to the film's history, particularly the Communist witch hunts that resulted in the blacklisting of actors Anne Revere and Albert Dekker, damaged John Garfield's career, and blacklisted director Kazan. Seen in a more recent interview, Kazan's still tough, sports a punchy New Yorker timbre, and remains unrepentant regarding his eventual naming of names after himself becoming part of the blacklisted "Hollywood Ten."
As with other entries in Fox' Oscar series, this DVD includes some archival goodies, such as 2 Movietone News shorts - the first covering the 1947 Oscar Awards (with Zanuck and Holm, along with fellow winners Ronald Coleman, Loretta Young, and "Now I know there's a Santa Claus" Edmund Gwenn); and the second short, where Bob Hope honors Zanuck and Gregory Peck each with Look Magazine Awards.
There's also a generous still gallery - featuring production and publicity stills - and the film's trailer, which incorporates some of the Oscar footage.
Although "All About Eve" and "How Green Was My Valley" each received heavy restoration work, Fox used a clean print of "Gentleman's Agreement," which has minor scratches and a few patches of variable grain density in spots. Director Kazan went for a more realistic style - using slower pacing, and decorating his scenes with effective character nuances - and restricted any original score to the film's main and end credits, and the 2.0 pseudo-stereo mix merely adds some treble to the original mono optical track.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan