Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
One of the seminal themes amongst the Best Picture winners is that war and hatred are not okay. I believe it is a responsibility of film, as a mass medium, to export these wholesome and valuable ideas, and to this end I feel that Gentleman’s Agreement is a success. Dealing with one of the most influential themes of the 20th Century, antisemitism, the film offers a unique and much needed response to the terrors of racial hatred as they were witnessed during the Second World War. In the 1940’s, I’ve no doubt that this film was screaming to be made and it’s statement to be heard.
Unfortunately, watching this today I found it bland as old chips and incredibly monotonous.
For one thing, the aesthetic is dead boring. Sure, the star Gregory Peck is very handsome. Sure, there’s a scene in a house in the country that looks quite pretty. But as for the rest, it’s nothing more than a drab, samey and impartial series of visual images. So, so boring. Maybe this movie is meant to be about the message and story, but film is a visual medium and as such needs to keep us engaged with interesting visuals. In this case, that was severely lacking.
Secondly, in a film that is clearly about race-relations, why do we have to suffer through an interminably dull, tacked on love story? Honestly, who cares? We want to see the meat of the tale. Phil, the protagonist, is a journalist posing as a Jew in order to better understand racial discrimination. With a set up like this we’re yearning to vicariously experience some rousing and troubling persecutions. Instead, the main contest to Phil’s experiment comes from the whinings of his girlfriend. This plot angle is seriously lame.
My main issue with Gentleman’s Agreement is that there are really no surprises. Where I come from, being Jewish is barely recognised as a marker of difference, and the terrible anti-semitism that plagued the world in the early part of the 20th century is a strange and distant memory. Where I’m from, we know already that anti-semitism is bad news. Here, Gentleman’s Agreement offers nothing we don’t know already, and as such has been castrated, left utterly impotent and exposed for the bland, drab film that it is.