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Film / Gentleman's Agreement

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"Ma, I've got it! I've got the idea, the angle, the lead! I'll be Jewish! Why, all I've got to do is just say it. No one around here knows me. I can live with myself for six weeks, eight weeks, nine months. Ma, this is it!"
Phil Green

Based on a novel by Laura Z. Hobson, Gentleman's Agreement is a 1947 film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire.

Peck plays a journalist — Phil "Schuyler" Green — who, having been widowed for some years, moves to New York City with his son and mother in pursuit of a new job. He gets one at a magazine, where he is assigned to write a piece on antisemitism. Struggling to find a convincing and engaging angle from which he can write the story, he finally hits on pretending to be Jewish so he can experience prejudice first-hand. This leads to tension between Phil and his fiancée Kathy Lacy (McGuire), who dislikes the difficulties brought on by his charade and lacks the courage to stand up and actually confront prejudice as it arises. Other characters include Anne Dettrey (Celeste Holm), the fashion editor at Phil's magazine who quickly befriends him; John Minify (Albert Dekker), the editor who suggests the piece; and Dave Goldman (John Garfield), a Jewish friend of Phil's who expresses misgivings about the ruse. The title comes from the "gentleman's agreement" between the residents of a particular community not to sell or rent property to Jews.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Director (Kazan), and Supporting Actress (Holm). Something of a Dueling Movies example along with Crossfire, another 1947 release with antisemitism as a theme. See also The House of Rothschild, which dealt with antisemitism way back in 1934.

This film contains examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: Phil eventually discovers that one of the biggest culprits of antisemitism aren't the ones who directly hit or insult Jews themselves, but the ones who smile and play nice and pretend not to see it. Like Kathy.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: How Phil figures he can pass as Jewish: he has dark hair, dark eyes, and a somewhat ambiguous name. He figures he doesn't need to have any "mannerisms" since his Jewish friend Dave doesn't have any either.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Kathy tries to assure Dave that she's not antisemitic because she felt so physically ill when a guest at her sister's party tried to get a laugh by using hateful slurs that she wanted to do something about it, Dave cuts through her protests by gently asking, "What did you do?"
  • Children Are Innocent: Phil has a hard time explaining antisemitism to his son, because his kid can't understand the concept of disliking anyone without a good reason. His mother agrees that hate and prejudice are learned attitudes, not inborn, since "children are decent to begin with." See also Kids Are Cruel below, however.
  • Expy: Phil meets a scientist who looks vaguely like Albert Einstein.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Kathy, who's fine with helping Phil, Dave, and Anne (all Jews as far as the world knows) fight antisemitism until it negatively affects her own high society social life. Then she'll gladly drop them by the wayside to enjoy her parties and clubs and social circles.
  • First Girl Wins: Phil ultimately decides to stay with Kathy, despite developing a close friendship with Anne, who has feelings for him.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Phil and his fiance, Kathy Lacey. They go out only a handful of times before deciding to get married.
  • Gay Euphemism: Anne's line: "Tell me, why is it that every man who seems attractive these days is either married or barred on a technicality?"
  • Heel Realization: Kathy eventually realizes her compliance with antisemitism by refusing to speak up to those guilty of it.
  • Hypocrite: Kathy, who claims to hate antisemitism but won't inconvenience herself by fighting it. She's even called a hypocrite by Anne.
  • Informed Judaism: No part of Phil's act involves, say, attending a synagogue, or anything other than just saying he's Jewish. People promptly hate on him.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: After Anne reveals her motive for throwing her parties (she can write them off as a business expense):
    Phil: You old crook.
    Anne: Young crook, please!
  • Jewish Like Me: The whole premise, and a fair bit older than the Trope Namer. Phil doesn't disguise himself or act differently in any way (which is part of the point, really) — all he does is say he's Jewish — and people treat him very differently.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Tommy gets bullied by other kids once they think his father is (half-)Jewish.
  • Love Triangle: Phil and Kathy are engaged, and Anne has feelings for Phil.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The reason Kathy tries to tell everyone they know that Phil isn't really Jewish—she wants to avoid any difficulties associated with being part of such a union.
  • Naturalized Name: Played for Drama. Due to antisemitism, Phil's secretary, Estelle Walovsky, had to change her name to the more Anglo-sounding "Elaine Wales" in order to be accepted at Phil's newspaper.
  • N-Word Privileges: After his secretary (see Stop Being Stereotypical below) uses a Jewish slur, Phil points out he does not think it's appropriate to use degrading words, specifically saying "nigger" as one of the words it's not right to use as degrading to people of whatever group someone doesn't like.
  • Some of My Best Friends Are X: When one of Phil's coworkers tries this after assuming Phil would've been in P.R. during the war as opposed to having been a G.I., Anne has a succinct reply:
    Anne Dettrey: I know dear, and some of your other best friends are Methodist, but you never bother to say it.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Phil's secretary, Elaine Wales/Estelle Wilovsky. She's unhappy that she couldn't get a job under her real name, but when Phil arranges for the magazine to have fairer hiring practices, she's immediately concerned that more "kikey" Jews will ruin the job for the "good ones," like Phil and herself. Phil does not take kindly to this.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Minify's opinion of Phil's pen name. He claims he wouldn't give it to a dog.