Gentleman’s Agreement

Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947, Twentieth Century Fox. Starring Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield. Directed by Elia Kazan. B&W, 118 minutes.

Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) has just moved with his mother (Anne Revere) and ten-year-old son Tom (Dean Stockwell) to New York, where he has a new job waiting for him as a magazine reporter. Phil is an experienced writer, and when he’s given an assignment on anti-semitism, he’s told it’s his particular skill his editor believes will give the topic strength it hasn’t had in the hands of lesser writers.

He struggles with the idea, uncertain at first if he even wants to take it on. It’s when his son begins asking him questions and his mother makes a few dry observations about his own prejudices he decides he wants to do it. Finding the right angle, however, seems impossible, until Phil, who is not Jewish, hits on the idea of living as a Jew in New York City for however long it takes to get the story he needs.

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Gregory Peck, Anne Revere

He’s met and fallen in love with Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire), a seemingly liberal woman whose deeply ingrained prejudices start to show as he begins to face the realities of bigotry. She is among a handful of people who know his real identity, and she’s careful to make sure the right people also know that truth.

Add to the mix Phil’s childhood friend Dave Goldman (John Garfield) who’s just moved to New York after serving in the war and is struggling to find a home for himself and his family. Dave, of course, knows the truth about Phil’s heritage, and as a Jew, he lends insight to the research.

The film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm, as the magazine’s fashion editor and Phil’s confidante). It was nominated for five others, including Best Actor (Peck) and Best Actress (McGuire).

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John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Celeste Holm

John Garfield, who was Jewish, generally played leading men, but accepted the supporting role because he believed in the importance of the film. The role of Phil’s son, Tommy, was played by Dean Stockwell, the veteran actor with one of the longest careers in Hollywood.

Gentleman’s Agreement was made in the years immediately following the Holocaust, when Americans were learning increasing amounts about the persecution of Jews and becoming sensitive to bigotry in their own country. Filmmakers, too, after the horrors of World War II, began to focus on more serious issues and take on “real”topics, such as alcoholism in The Lost Weekend and the trials facing returning veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives, and audiences responded well.

Interestingly, however, the film never mentions the Holocaust, a deliberate decision on the part of the film’s producer and director. Another point of interest is the use of racial slurs; words that are considered on par with profanity today were used in the movie without reservation and any apparent objection by censors.

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Dorothy McGuire, Gregory Peck, Dean Stockwell

The movie is still noteworthy for its ability to bring forth intelligent discussion of anti-semitism. Critics note that it focuses on only one region in the country, that is, the upper-crust society Philip Green is part of, but whether or not that is a fault of the film is debatable. This is one movie’s take on the topic, and it can’t be responsible for portraying the whole of the problem.

Gentleman’s Agreement is complex, as is its topic, well-acted and thought-provoking. It remains a worthwhile movie for anyone interested in what a film can do for shining light society’s ills, as well as those who enjoy classic movies at their best.

As of February 7, 2017, “Gentleman’s Agreement” is available on Netflix streaming service as well as DVD rental. Availability is subject to change.

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday, 1953, Paramount Pictures.  Starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 118 minutes.

Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), bored with the constraints of her royal life, breaks away from her entourage one night while on tour in Rome and meets Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), a down-on-his-luck American reporter. Ann is the heir to the throne of an unnamed European country, and Joe believes he’s happened upon the interview of a lifetime, one that will bring him back to New York and a “real” reporting job.

Joe doesn’t let on he’s a reporter, nor does he tell Ann that his friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) is a news photographer. The three embark on a Roman adventure that is romantic, eye-opening and enlightening, and finishes with a poignant ending true to the characters and story.

Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Filmed entirely in Rome, this is an elegant film with stars to match. It is funny as well; in addition to the surprising comedic talents of both Hepburn and Peck, Eddie Albert is a wonderful foil to Peck’s more serious, slightly staid reporter as the raucous photographer, and the movie is spotted with Italian character actors who add humor and charm all along the way.

The decision by director William Wyler to film in Italy was a novel one, and it brought that country to American audiences in a way most hadn’t seen before. Travel at that time was less common, and it had only been a few years since the war, so Italy was not considered the prime destination then that it is today.

This was Hepburn’s big screen debut, and she won an Academy Award for her performance as the frustrated princess struggling with her role in society. She wasn’t the first choice for the role, yet her screen test won over both director Wyler and co-star Peck with her natural yet chic style, perfect for the character.

Audrey Hepburn Gregory Peck
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck

Initially Peck was to be given sole star billing in the film, yet at some point during production he insisted her name be listed at, or near, the top, with his, something he was given a lot of credit for, yet he dismissed as “the obvious thing to do,” noting her fame was going to overtake the film and it would look silly not to have her given higher billing.

The film was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards, and in addition to Best Actress, won the awards for Best Costume Design, Black & White and Best Writing (Motion Picture Story). The latter award was originally given to Ian McClellan Hunter, who fronted for Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood elite blacklisted at the time. Years later (1993) the Academy corrected the listing for the award and Trumbo now receives credit.

In an off-screen romantic twist, Gregory Peck met his second wife, Veronique Passani, while filming Roman Holiday. Passani was a reporter assigned to interview Peck. They married in 1955 and remained together until his death in 2003.

Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Audrey Hepburn
Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday is truly a classic romantic comedy; it perhaps sets the standard for such. It is classy, charming and endearing, with an ending that is satisfying in all its surprises, a tale of the perfect romance, whose memory will never be marred by day-to-day realities.


Original Theatrical Trailer, featuring Audrey Hepburn’s screen test:

Re-release trailer: