SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Jewish Community Arts (SJCA), sponsored in part by Temple Sinai, opens its fall season with a Zoom panel discussion of the 1947 film “Gentleman’s Agreement” on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.
“Gentleman’s Agreement,” directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck, made anti-Semitism the focus in prosperous postwar America and exposes the insidious way that Jews were excluded from social clubs, vacation resorts, and jobs.
The movie, was adapted by Moss Hart from the bestseller of the same name by Laura Z. Hobson. Hobson was moved to write the book from her outrage at the way a congressman had called the columnist Walter Winchell an insulting name without anyone raising a murmur.
For an industry run primarily by Jews, Hollywood movies had seemed fearful of any pleading for Jewish causes. In the years the years leading up to the American entry into World War II, American films had chosen not to talk about the tenuous status of European Jewry, even in films ostensibly about the Nazi menace.
The film’s lead, journalist Phil Green, a charming and personable widower, is asked to write about anti-Semitism for his new employer, a liberal New York magazine. Green, a Gentile, pretends to be Jewish to experience anti-Semitism firsthand. However, Judaism and Jewishness are almost absent in the story. The apolitical film wants liberal Jews and Gentiles to be indistinguishable. There is no Jewish household visible, no Jewish culture.
According to SCJA, The film is remarkable as much for what it chooses not to depict as what it does. It is a movie about anti-Semitism, unafraid of specificity in its choice of targets that nonetheless depicts anti-Jewish sentiment as being primarily confined to the types of people and places a well-heeled Manhattan journalist might encounter. In 1947, just two years after the end of World War II, talking about anti-Semitism without mentioning the fact that six million Jews had just been murdered in Europe may have been more than an oversight. Was it a coverup?