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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gentleman's Agreement From 66 Years Out

A stern lesson show that glows today with nostalgia for a lost late 40's when urban landscapes looked so pristine, as in Gotham-shot walks Greg Peck and Dean Stockwell take past sites still there, but not so inviting as Fox '47 captured them. It was a treat when cameras put cast amongst real lives pursued, famous faces among crowds that did or wouldn't realize a star was among them (but fun spotting occasional gawkers who do notice pic crews). More of this was ventured after the war and seeking of authenticity, lots of noir being city-shot, but satisfying too were cheerier NY streets of Gentleman's Agreement's first reel and the same of couple-year's later On The Town.

No Need For The Poster To Explain What It's
 About ---The Source Novel Was
 Known and The Cast Implied Prestige
Medicine goes down easier with pretty sites and people to look at, one reason why Zanuck was able to make a hit of Gentleman's caution re anti-Semitism. Making sure it entertained, and filtering of editorial through a love story were rules of Fox engagement, DFZ saying as much when media asked.  May-be a cynical approach, but grosses would tell, 20th's Agreement reached with an eager public to tune of $4.6 million worldwide. Well as the problem was understood on coasts, anti-Semitism still needed definition for heartland patronage, thus Peck with all but a lectern and power point explains the scourge to little Dean Stockwell, the floor open for the kid to ask questions out-of-loop viewers might pose. It was an only way to feed a trowel of exposition short of scrolling text or direct address to the audience.

Peck goes undercover as a Jew among the anti-Semites in ways not dissimilar from Mark Stevens infiltrating Dick Widmark's fur-thieving gang in Fox's The Street With No Name of a following year. Formula was formula after all, and observing familiar tropes made social issuing more palatable. What undercuts conviction is long settled bad apple Roy Roberts as bigotry's rep behind a hotel's check-in, him after all a dark denizen known to us on sight for burning wax museums and same year's placement of Ty Power in a geek pit. Just seeing Roy emerge from management's inner circle is enough to know Greg won't be checking into this lodge. Doubt raised by type-casting made me also suspicious throughout of supposed benign mag editor Albert Dekker, who I kept expecting to pull a rug from beneath Peck and reveal himself as mastermind of anti-Semites the world over. Still, it's players like these, always welcome however they mislead us, that make Gentleman's Agreement a still-diverting sit.

Bookings Down The Line Got Benefit Of Awards
This Agreement Had Banked During Interim
To casting issues, I'd add this --- how about if Gregory Peck and John Garfield had switched parts? JG could certainly have brought more angst to the lead than Peck. The trouble with this Agreement is a too righteous actor doing an insufferably righteous part. I applauded Dorothy McGuire for breaking up with Greg for the third act crisis, and thought it a false ending when the two reconciled, him being such a prig and not likely to ease up. Elia Kazan later said Peck was the hardest actor he ever had to work with, being stiff beyond nuance the director sought. Heck, maybe Roy Roberts should have taken GP's role, or, to propose another more seriously, Dana Andrews, who I think would have been ideally cast for this lead.

A 1953 Reissue That Was Good for
Another $55K in Domestic Rentals
There are later-blacklisted folk here in abundance. Anne Revere gets out her chalkboard and literally reads a closing act mission statement that reminded me of Chaplin doing as much for The Great Dictator. Garfield, of course, had HUAC trouble, a culmination of which was his premature death in 1952. Kazan's mess is well known. Gentleman's Agreement is smart and brittle and very "insider" as to New York publishing by-ways. Patronage must have been flattered by Agreement playing to their wit and social conscience, as everyone leaving this clever construct could feel ennobled with bright prospect for tolerance of fellow man. It still works well in reassuringly Hollywood terms, and looks fine on newly-released Blu-Ray as part of an eight-film Elia Kazan group, all treats and reminder of what great work this director consistently did while at Fox.


Blogger silverscreenings said...

I never thought about Dana Andrews as the lead but now that you mention it, I think that would have been a good choice.

I didn't realize there were so many to-be-blacklisted folk associated with this movie! Thanks for pointing that out.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I would rather watch Crossfire 50 times back to back than sit through Gentleman's Agreement again. It's a movie about having trouble checking into hotels. The 70s remake, The Out of Towners, is no better.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Actually, the Brewster isn't that bad a place to stay.

11:18 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I actually don't like at all this film, no matter its box office merits. It is still a pretentious talkfest underserving of each one its Academy Awards. Of all of these "social message" pictures, it is much better CROSSFIRE. But the best of the lot, by far, is Piere Chenal's NATIVE SON in its original and uncut version which I have in a DVD that Fernando Martín Peña rescued a few years ago.

11:51 PM  

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