Gentleman’s Agreement (Blu-ray)
Directed by Elia Kazan
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 118 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono English; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Review Date: February 2, 2013
Journalist Phil Green (Gregory Peck) is assigned by magazine editor John Minify (Albert Dekker) to do a series for his magazine on anti-Semitism. He’s given free reign to approach it any way he wishes, but Phil is stuck for a way into the story until he gets the idea to approach it from the angle of personal feelings by masquerading as a person of Jewish faith to see what living in that persona would mean. What he learns shocks him: that prejudice against Jewish people was present everywhere: sometimes blatantly, sometimes reservedly or even in disguise: with his building’s custodian, with acquaintances, his family doctor, even at the liberally run magazine where he’s working. Things become even more awkward when Minify’s divorced niece Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) begins seeing a lot of Phil and their relationship blossoms into love. At almost every turn, people believing Phil is Jewish becomes a problem for Kathy, and his disappointment in her complacent attitude toward the problem of internalized, noncommittal prejudice (the gentleman's agreement of the title) drives a wedge between them.
The film is based on a best selling novel by Laura Z. Hobson, but playwright/screenwriter Moss Hart’s stage credentials continually betray themselves in the frequently overwritten dialogue which director Elia Kazan films oftentimes as if he’s transcribing a play onto celluloid. The writing is filled with so many terrific ideas: the common self loathing of their own kind modeled by Green’s secretary Miss Wales (June Havoc), the quiet acceptance of prejudice that even liberal suburbanites are guilty of (Kathy and her equally culpable sister played by Jane Wyatt), atheistic Jews who are nonetheless saddled with their religious heritage and must wear it as a badge of honor (scientist Prof. Lieberman played by Sam Jaffe). The film’s best characters are more peripheral to the central love story; they’re Phil’s Jewish buddy Dave (John Garfield) and the magazine fashion editor Anne (Celeste Holm) who’s actually Phil’s soul mate but not romantic connection, all due to the sappy machinations of the typical Hollywood plotting. In fact, the film’s social issues still play just fine now; it’s that manipulated happy ending that rings so false and Hollywood glossy that ruins an otherwise very important and overall well done treatment of the issue even if the solutions suggested are only of the most surface nature. At least the problem was presented unblinkingly.
Gregory Peck was pitch-perfect casting as the high minded and socially committed Phil Green, and he gives the kind of stalwart, eagerly earnest performance that was typical of him in this era. Dorothy McGuire makes a willowy Kathy whose distaste for confrontation is mentioned a couple of times in the movie but seems forgotten by the end though she has a couple of really electric speeches in the film’s second half that show her power as an actress. (Is it really realistic to think this is the last story of social importance that Phil will approach and that Kathy will find difficult to cope with his intensity and commitment?) John Garfield gives one of his most relaxed and effective performances as Phil’s great Army buddy. His eyes evince a lot of pain and a history of rejection but a never-say-die attitude keeps him buoyant. It’s the film’s best performance by far. Celeste Holm’s Oscar-winning Anne shows a great deal of heart and sardonic humor. She has a couple of monologues in the film that won her the award and show why she was the go-to girl for brittle dialogue delivered with a wry touch. Anne Revere as Phil’s mother gives a solid, straightforward portrayal, and Dean Stockwell is just as effective as Phil’s son who becomes the object for prejudice late in the movie.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. With a gorgeous grayscale boasting inky blacks and superb whites and a grain structure that suggests film in every frame, the image is sparkling throughout. With only the tiniest bit of minor flashing in one scene, the transfer’s sharpness is excellent, and there should be absolutely no complaints with this achievement. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix delivers just what one would expect with dialogue, sound effects, and Alfred Newman’s rather spare music into a single track. Occasionally dialogue is not quite as audible as one might wish (Celeste Holm mumbles a few lines that get a bit lost), and in very quiet scenes, there’s the muffled trace of hiss and crackle that has been stifled as best they can by the transfer’s sound engineers.
The audio commentary is by film critic Richard Schickel with occasional inserted comments by actresses Celeste Holm (who sounds very frail) and June Havoc. The ladies’ comments are fine, but as Schickel isn’t particularly enamored with the movie, his comments are rather dismissive oftentimes and much of the film finds him simply reacting to what he’s watching rather than offering scholarly commentary.
“Hollywood Backstory: Gentleman’s Agreement” is another in the entertaining series of backstory featurettes prepared for Fox titles which aired on AMC. In 24 ½ minutes, it deals with the theme of the book and Hollywood’s reluctance to tackle it, non-Jewish head of Fox Darryl Zanuck’s commitment to making the movie, the casting choices, the beginnings of the H.U.A.C. investigations and how they inevitably touched members of the cast and crew, and the film’s rapturous reception and awards. It’s in 480i.
Two Fox Movietone newsreels show award presentations to the movie. The Oscar newsreel (1 ¾ minutes) features comments from winners Celeste Holm and Darryl Zanuck while the Look Magazine Awards (1 minute) features acceptances from Gregory Peck for Best Actor and Darryl Zanuck for Best Picture. They’re both in 480i.
The theatrical trailer issued after its Oscar wins runs 3 minutes.
4/5 (not an average)
Gentleman’s Agreement may not pack quite the same punch as it did in 1947, but it’s still a very well acted and affecting drama, and the Blu-ray release (even omitting the three dozen behind-the-scenes stills from the DVD release) features a beautiful video transfer and better than average of its era audio. Recommended!