Gentleman's Agreement (1948)

118 mins | Drama | March 1948

Director:

Elia Kazan

Writer:

Moss Hart

Producer:

Darryl F. Zanuck

Cinematographer:

Arthur Miller

Editor:

Harmon Jones

Production Designers:

Lyle Wheeler, Mark-Lee Kirk

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

The best-selling novel Gentleman's Agreement was serialized in Cosmopolitan (Nov 1946--Feb 1947) before it being published in book form. In a Jul 1947 Cosmopolitan interview, author Laura Z. Hobson stated, "What did I try to do with the book? I think a woman who wrote to me put it in two wonderful sentences. She says, 'Villains aren't really frightening. It's the millions of nice people who do, and allow, villainous things.' I think that's the gist of what I was trying to say." Hobson noted that Darryl Zanuck, Fox's production head, who made the film his sole personal production of 1947, told her that if the film failed at the box office, it "would set Hollywood back twenty years in honest[ly] dealing with the problem of prejudice." The film marked the first time that noted playwright Moss Hart wrote directly for the screen.
       Director Elia Kazan, in his autobiography, states that Jewish heads of other major film studios held a meeting in which they urged Hart to convince Zanuck not to make the film because they did not want to stir up anti-Semitism. A NYT article from Mar 1947 noted, "A few objections [to the film] have come from Jews, who feel that the picture may increase rather than diminish intolerance, but a far larger proportion of Jewish opinion approves the venture, according to Zanuck." In a NYT column from Nov 1947, reviewer Bosley Crowther mentioned a rumor that a "well-known Hollywood producer" tried to convince Hart that the film should not be made, a situation mirrored in the film itself, when a Jewish ... More Less

The best-selling novel Gentleman's Agreement was serialized in Cosmopolitan (Nov 1946--Feb 1947) before it being published in book form. In a Jul 1947 Cosmopolitan interview, author Laura Z. Hobson stated, "What did I try to do with the book? I think a woman who wrote to me put it in two wonderful sentences. She says, 'Villains aren't really frightening. It's the millions of nice people who do, and allow, villainous things.' I think that's the gist of what I was trying to say." Hobson noted that Darryl Zanuck, Fox's production head, who made the film his sole personal production of 1947, told her that if the film failed at the box office, it "would set Hollywood back twenty years in honest[ly] dealing with the problem of prejudice." The film marked the first time that noted playwright Moss Hart wrote directly for the screen.
       Director Elia Kazan, in his autobiography, states that Jewish heads of other major film studios held a meeting in which they urged Hart to convince Zanuck not to make the film because they did not want to stir up anti-Semitism. A NYT article from Mar 1947 noted, "A few objections [to the film] have come from Jews, who feel that the picture may increase rather than diminish intolerance, but a far larger proportion of Jewish opinion approves the venture, according to Zanuck." In a NYT column from Nov 1947, reviewer Bosley Crowther mentioned a rumor that a "well-known Hollywood producer" tried to convince Hart that the film should not be made, a situation mirrored in the film itself, when a Jewish industrialist states, quoting Crowther, asserts, "You can't write it out of existence. The less talk about it, the better. Leave it alone!"
       According to Twentieth Century-Fox legal records, scenes were shot at various locations in New York City, including Rockefeller Plaza and the NBC Building, and at Darien, CT. LADN stated that John Garfield accepted his limited role in the film after Zanuck promised that the film would be faithful to Hart's script. Publicity for the film states that Zanuck paid Garfield "his full star's salary" for the role. DV , in reviewing the film, praised the acting of Garfield and Celeste Holm, stating, "This is one picture in which the performances of the supporting cast equal, or top, those of the two principals." Fox legal records report that Morris Carnovsky was originally hired to play "Professor Lieberman," but his contract was terminated by mutual agreement. Modern sources state that the film was Fox's top grossing picture of 1948, that it cost $2,000,000 to produce, and that it was the second largest grossing picture up to that time in the South. The film received the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Celeste Holm won for Best Supporting Actress. Gentleman's Agreement was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Actress (Dorothy McGuire), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Revere), Writing--Screenplay (Moss Hart) and Film Editing (Harmon Jones). According to a MPH ad in Apr 1948, the picture won fifty-one film-related awards, including the New York Critics' Circle Award.
       In a modern interview, Kazan stated about the film, "For the first time someone said that America is full of anti-semitism, both conscious and unconscious and among the best and most liberal people. That was then a much bolder statement than it is now.... It was saying to the audience: You are an average American and you are anti-semitic.'" In his autobiography, Kazan qualified his enthusiasm for the film by stating that it "doesn't have what would have made it lasting in its effect: the intimate experience of someone who had been through the bitter and humiliating experience." Reviewers gave the film high praise. LADN lauded it for being "both daring and adult, a film that isn't afraid to call names or to depict a love affair whose conflicts, for once, are over ideas." HR called the film "the most spellbinding story ever put on celluloid." The Protestant Motion Picture Council challenged viewers that it will "take courage to see it. That is, to really see it, to face up to its personal implications, and then to 'do something about it.'"
       Dialogue in the film refers to a number of then-prominent demagogic figures known for their bigotry, including U.S. Senator Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, from Mississippi, who advocated deporting all African Americans to Africa; Representative John E. Rankin, also from Mississippi, who in a statement from the House floor called broadcaster and columnist Walter Winchell "the little kike"; and Gerald L. K. Smith, a Christian Nationalist Crusade leader. In May 1947, Zanuck queried Fox legal counsel George Wasson on whether they were breaking any laws by making the references. After Wasson responded that no court would consider the references a violation of "right to privacy," and that there was only a slight risk of libel, Zanuck wrote, "Let them sue us. They won't dare and if they do nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or a defendant at the trial." In Apr 1948, Smith did sue Twentieth Century-Fox in a Tulsa court to ban the film in Tulsa, his home for the previous six months. After a district judge refused to issue a restraining order, Smith took his complaint through the court system, suing the company for $1,000,000, but in Feb 1951, the case was dismissed.
       In Sep 1948, the film was rejected for showing in Spain. The NYT reported that the ban was instigated "by order of the ecclesiastical member of the Film Censorship Board on moral grounds. According to a source close to the board, the banning order stipulated that while it was a Christian duty to 'stimulate love among individuals, societies, nations and peoples,' this should not extend to Jews." The report listed six points or "theological errors" of the film that warranted the ban, including that the film declared "that a Christian is not superior to a Jew" and that the film asserts that "for many Jews it is a matter of pride to be called Jews. Pride of what? The pride of being the people who put God to death? Of being perfidious, as they are called in Holy Scripture?" On 3 Oct 1948, according to HR , the President of the Board of Film Censors in Madrid, Gabriel Garcia Espina, called the statement reported in NYT to be a "calumny" and that the film was, in fact, banned because anti-Semitism was not an issue in Spain. Espina stated, "There is no racial problem in Spain. We do not know here the conflict of Semitism or anti-Semitism. And precisely because of the beautiful and traditional Spanish idea of human freedom, these anguishing racial differences that have disturbed so much, and apparently do disturb, the lives of the peoples, are alien to us and we want them to continue being alien to us." The film, however, was approved for showing in Spain on 12 Jan 1949 under the title La Barrera Invisible .
       Lux Radio Theatre broadast two radio versions of the story. The first show, starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter and Jeff Chandler, aired on 20 Sep 1948, and the second version, which starred Ray Milland, Dorothy McGuire and Shep Menken, was heard on 15 Mar 1955. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Nov 1947.
---
Cosmopolitan
Jul 1947.
Daily Variety
10 Nov 1947.
---
Film Daily
11 Nov 47
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 46
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 47
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 47
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 47
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Nov 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 47
p. 14, 17
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1948.
---
Life
1 Dec 47
pp. 95-96.
Look
10 Jun 1947.
---
Look
11 Nov 1947.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
5 Jun 1947.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
26 Dec 47
p. 21, 23
Los Angeles Daily News
12 Feb 48
p. 33.
Los Angeles Times
26 Dec 1947.
---
Motion Picture Daily
10 Nov 1947.
---
Motion Picture Herald
3 Apr 1948.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Nov 47
p. 3929.
New York Times
16 Mar 1947.
---
New York Times
12 Nov 47
p. 36.
New York Times
16 Nov 1947.
---
New York Times
29 Sep 1948.
---
Tulsa Daily World
10 Apr 48
p. 1.
Variety
12 Nov 47
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Scr
Revisions to scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Ed supv
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Orch arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson (New York, 1947).
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1948
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 November 1947
Production Date:
24 May--19 August 1947
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
11 November 1947
Copyright Number:
LP1777
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
118
Length(in feet):
10,643
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12488
SYNOPSIS

Philip Schuyler Green, a widowed journalist, arrives in New York from California with his son Tommy and his mother to work for Smith's Weekly , a leading national magazine. John Minify, the publisher, wants Phil to write a series on anti-Semitism, but Phil is lukewarm about the assignment. At a party, Phil meets Minify's niece, Kathy Lacy, a divorcee to whom Phil becomes attracted, and Kathy reminds her uncle that she suggested the series some time ago. Tommy asks his father about anti-Semitism, and when Phil finds it difficult to explain, he decides to accept the assignment. He is frustrated, however, at his inability to come up with a satisfactory approach, for he and Minify want the series to go deeper than just exposing the "crackpot" mentality. After trying to imagine how his Jewish boyhood friend, Dave Goldman, who is now overseas in the Army, must feel when he experiences bigotry, Phil decides to write from the point of view of a Jew. He continues to have difficulties writing, though, until he realizes that some things can never be known until one experiences them firsthand, and that the only way to get the necessary experience is to appear Jewish in the eyes of other people. When Minify announces the series to a luncheon group, Phil casually mentions that he is Jewish. Later, Phil learns from his new secretary that she was told there were no positions with the magazine when she applied under her real name of Estelle Walofsky, but when she reapplied using "Ethel Wales," she got the job. On his first day as a Jew, Phil becomes the target of slurs and learns of ... +


Philip Schuyler Green, a widowed journalist, arrives in New York from California with his son Tommy and his mother to work for Smith's Weekly , a leading national magazine. John Minify, the publisher, wants Phil to write a series on anti-Semitism, but Phil is lukewarm about the assignment. At a party, Phil meets Minify's niece, Kathy Lacy, a divorcee to whom Phil becomes attracted, and Kathy reminds her uncle that she suggested the series some time ago. Tommy asks his father about anti-Semitism, and when Phil finds it difficult to explain, he decides to accept the assignment. He is frustrated, however, at his inability to come up with a satisfactory approach, for he and Minify want the series to go deeper than just exposing the "crackpot" mentality. After trying to imagine how his Jewish boyhood friend, Dave Goldman, who is now overseas in the Army, must feel when he experiences bigotry, Phil decides to write from the point of view of a Jew. He continues to have difficulties writing, though, until he realizes that some things can never be known until one experiences them firsthand, and that the only way to get the necessary experience is to appear Jewish in the eyes of other people. When Minify announces the series to a luncheon group, Phil casually mentions that he is Jewish. Later, Phil learns from his new secretary that she was told there were no positions with the magazine when she applied under her real name of Estelle Walofsky, but when she reapplied using "Ethel Wales," she got the job. On his first day as a Jew, Phil becomes the target of slurs and learns of discriminatory rules at his apartment building. When he tells Kathy, with whom he has fallen in love, about his story "angle," she is at first confused that he might really be Jewish. The next day, the magazine's personnel director is reprimanded by Minify for his policy of not hiring Jewish secretaries and is told that every future ad must include the line, "Religion is a matter of indifference." When Miss Wales learns about the change of policy, however, her fear that a "kikey" Jew will ruin things for them prompts Phil to state that he hates anti-Semitism as much from her as from a gentile. Later, Kathy, to whom Phil is now engaged, tells Phil that her sister Jane in Darien, Connecticut has planned a party for them on the next Saturday, and Phil reluctantly agrees to allow Kathy to tell Jane about the ruse. When Kathy asks Phil not to discuss anti-Semitism at her sister's party, Phil refuses and and Kathy berates him for being argumentative. Soon after, Dave arrives in town on leave to look for a home, as he has been offered a job in the area. When Phil tells him about the series and says that, as a Jew, he is having his "nose rubbed in it and doesn't like the smell," Dave says he is just not "insulated" yet. Phil and Dave then meet Anne at a restaurant, where a drunken patron calls Dave a "yid, and Dave violently shoves the man away. Afterwards, Phil receives a call from Kathy, who says she is in Connecticut to confront Jane. When Phil arrives in Darien for Jane's party, he is surprised that the guests are interested in the series, but Kathy does not reveal that Jane screened the guests and only invited the "safe ones." Two days before Phil and Kathy's wedding, the couple learns from Anne that the Flume Inn, where they plan to honeymoon, is "restricted," meaning that Jews are not allowed, but when Phil's mother has a minor stroke, the wedding is postponed anyway. Dave, who has not been able to find a house, says he must return to his family and miss the wedding. Angered because he feels that Dave is being rejected because he is Jewish, Phil goes to the Flume Inn to confront the management. When he gets evasive answers to his queries, Phil raises his voice in anger and says he is Jewish, which disturbs some of the guests. Phil returns to Kathy and argues that she should help Dave find a home in Connecticut. When she reveals that the Darien citizens have a "gentleman's agreement" not to sell to Jews, Phil castigates her for not wanting to fight. Tommy, in tears, interrupts their quarrel and says that the kids at school called him a "dirty yid" and a "stinking kike." After Kathy tries to comfort the boy by saying that he is no more Jewish than she, Phil calms his son, then angrily lectures Kathy for instilling in Tommy a sense of superiority as a white Christian American. Phil contends that his biggest discovery has been that the "nice people," who are not anti-Semitic, sustain prejudice by not protesting against it. Kathy decides that they cannot marry due to Phil's temper and leaves despite his apologies. That night, Phil tells Dave about Tommy, and Dave says that he can now quit, as he has learned what it is like when anti-Semitism hits one's children. Phil delivers the first half of the series, entitled, "I Was Jewish for 8 Weeks," and announces that he is returning to California. Meanwhile, Kathy asks Dave to meet her at a restaurant, where she relates that earlier that night, a man told a bigoted joke, to which no one in her party objected, and that she felt ill about it. Dave's repeated question of "What did you do about it?" helps Kathy realize that she has been getting mad at Phil because he expected her to fight, but she should have been getting mad at those who help maintain bigotry. Dave advises that he has learned to "sock back" and that she might not feel ill if she had done so. When Kathy says she is not a fit wife for Phil, Dave contends that a man wants a wife who will go through the rough spots with him and feel that they are the same rough spots. Later, Phil's mother is reading his manuscript when Dave comes in and calls his boss to announce that he has found a house and will take the New York job. Dave explains that he will live at Kathy's Darien cottage, and that Kathy has decided to live with her sister and challenge the bigotry there. Thrilled that Kathy has changed, Phil embraces her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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