The spectacular critical, popular and financial success of Laura Z. Hobson’s “Gentleman’s Agreement” as a novel should be repeated by Darryl F. Zanuck’s brilliant and powerful film version. Just as the original story of the writer (character), who poses as a Jew to write a magazine series on anti-Semitism was a milestone in modern fiction, the picture is one of the most vital and stirring and impressive in Hollywood history. It should clean up at the boxoffice and bring deserved acclaim to its creators.
The film is, if anything, an improvement over the novel. This is not merely because the story has been better focused and somewhat condensed, without softening the treatment. It is also more graphic and atmospheric than the book and, more importantly, because it has greater dramatic depth and force, and more personal, emotional impact. Even the least-informed and least-sensitive filmgoer can hardly fail to identify himself with the characters on the screen, and be profoundly moved. The picture provides an almost overwhelming emotional experience and thus is not only highly topical, but truly universal.
Moss Hart’s screenplay has eliminated some of the book’s secondary characters, such as the writer’s bigoted sister, as well as a number of plot sequences, like the events at the winter resort. Also, obviously for censor-morality reasons, the intimate relationship between the writer and Kathy, as well as between Dave and Anne, is now merely inferential in the first case and completely eliminated in the second.
The basic elements of the Hobson work are not only retained, but in some cases given greater dimension and plausibility. This is true of the adaptation, direction and performances. Thus, the first meeting between Phil Green and Kathy is more understandable on the screen than it was on the printed page. Similarly, the couple’s other scenes, especially the initial love scene, dramatize their irresistible mutual physical attraction, which overcomes their violent philosophic disagreements.
The picture is memorable for numerous other vivid, impelling passages. For instance, the breakfast scene, when Green tries to explain anti-Semitism to his innocent little son, stamps the picture’s urgent theme on the spectator’s mind virtually at once. Other unforgettable moments are when the youngster tells his father of being taunted by his playmates, Phil’s childlike terror at his mother’s heart attack, Kathy’s reaction when Phil reveals the ‘angle” for his magazine series, Phil’s helpless rage at the “restricted” resort hotel, the scene with Anne and the unconscious bigot in the cocktail bar, Dave’s quiet account of the Jewish soldier’s death and Dave’s conversation with Kathy about her passive disapproval of “nice” anti-Semites.
There are many other fine ones, but the picture isn’t perfect. There are also disappointing or confusing scenes. One is the party given by Kathy’s sister which remains as unresolved on the screen as in the book, and is lacking in realistic atmosphere. In the same scene, the stupid Connecticut dowagers seem exaggerated. Celeste Holm, with some of the film’s most pungent lines, frequently reads them too fast for intelligibility. And the scene in which Phil’s mother reads from his articles seems verbose and preachy, although her lines about “your father would have been pleased” are acutely touching.
Another measure of the success of “Gentleman’s Agreement” as a picture is the distinguished quality of so many of its individual performances. As Phil Green, the magazine writer, Gregory Peck gives unquestionably the finest performance of his career to date. He is quiet, almost gentle, progressively intense and resolute, with just the right suggestion of inner vitality and turbulence.
Dorothy McGuire, too, is dramatically and emotionally compelling as Kathy, adding considerable scope and depth to anything she has done heretofore. The range from her somewhat flippant opening scene to the searing final one with John Garfield is impressive. Garfield is a natural in the part of Dave, giving it admirable strength and understated eloquence.
Except for her fault of diction noted above, Miss Holm is excellent in the likable part of Anne, while Anne Revere turns in another of her expressively terse portrayals as the mother. June Havoc as the anti-Semitic Jewish secretary, Albert Dekker as the red-blooded publisher, Jane Wyatt in the bit part of Kathy’s sister, Dean Stockwell as the manly urchin, Nicholas Joy as the hypocritical doctor, and Sam Jaffe as the satirically philosophical scientist, are all excellent.
Hart’s screen adaptation is masterful, and Elia Kazan’s direction, added to his work on such films as “Boomerang,” establishes him in the top rank of Hollywood. (He already is on the Broadway stage.) Arthur Miller’s photography is outstanding, and the settings and special effects are exceptional. In sum, “Gentleman’s Agreement” is more than a top-drawer adaptation of a successful book and a worthy treatment of a vital subject–it is a credit to the screen.
1947: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actress (Celeste Holm)
Nominations: Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Actress (Dorothy McGuire), Supp. Actress (Anne Revere), Screenplay, Editing