Gentleman's Agreement Shines On DVD

Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Dean Stockwell. Directed by Elia Kazan. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 (full-frame). Mono. 118 minutes. 1947. Fox Home Entertainment 4112748. NR. $29.95.

This groundbreaking drama's depiction of virulent anti-Semitism hiding behind the "cultured" façade of WASP gentility in the 1940s may seem a bit dated today, but what it says remains as relevant as ever. This early gem from Elia Kazan, based on the novel by Laura Hobson, deservedly won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, and should get credit for being made at all in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Hollywood establishment.

When enterprising journalist Phil Green (Gregory Peck) decides to pretend to be Jewish for eight weeks in order to experience first-hand what he's writing about, he discovers that anti-Jewish prejudice is both more widespread and more insidious than he imagined. It runs across the board: job applications are rejected, hotel reservations are canceled, insults are spat out in public, and his young son (Dean Stockwell) is harassed at school.

The culprits aren't only the overt bigots, but also those who tolerate what the bigots say—those who let these hateful attitudes proliferate by simply keeping quiet. Even the woman he loves, Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire), an enlightened socialite who despises prejudice, prefers to maintain her poker face when hearing an anti-Semitic joke. She discloses the secret about Phil's impersonation to her sister to avoid a family crisis, and refuses to have Phil's best friend, Dave Goldman (the wonderful John Garfield), stay in her vacant country house with his family.

Phil, on the other hand, is so taken by his issue that he begins to judge people according to their position on the subject, and his relationship with Kathy seems like a definite casualty. But Kathy, unlike most of her bigoted friends, finally sees the light, though the resulting happy ending seems somewhat forced.

This stylish, well-executed drama may suffer a bit artistically from its lack of metaphorical layers of meaning beyond the announced subject—but, on the other hand, it's precisely this a head-on approach and honesty that make Gentleman's Agreement so compelling and effective.

The quality of the transfer is excellent, with very crisp black-and-white images and good focus and contrast. The mono sound is full-bodied.