Movie. Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947.

Posted by T on March 13, 2007
By Title, Judaica, Movies

Gregory Peck is a newspaper feature-writer assigned to write on “anti-semitism.” He decides to investigate the subject by pretending to be a Jew in his daily life, and observing how others react to that fact. Doing so, he discovers “anti-semitism” bursting out of the woodwork everywhere he turns. In parallel, he has fallen for a woman whose bona fides seemed impeccable — she was after all the one that suggested the series to the newspaper owner — but yet who needs to be repeatedly rebuked for her cowardly tolerance of the anti-semitic crime in others, until she at length can be purged even of this and made worthy of marriage to Gregory Peck. This she can only do by turning her back on family and friends and subsidizing the housing of a Jewish family.

The story of the movie is nothing but a skeleton to hang preaching points on. It is a veritable manual for the truisms of how to speak of Jews that have been inculcated in every American living today. Here are some of the points:

1. Jewish is just another religious denomination, like Catholic and Protestant. (11)

2. Well… it’s actually sort of a race, too. “Dark hair, dark eyes,” (30) but so have “a lot of other guys that aren’t Jewish.”

3. The pain of anti-semitism is beyond description. The feeling of being called kike can’t be described — it is like when his mother had a heart attack; he wanted to ask her how it felt, but simply couldn’t (22).

4. The stereotype of the Jew as money-grubbing is certainly false, and one should be embarrassed to even think it. The doctor with the name Abrahams is referred to by the Gentile doctor by indirection (40) — you know, people “given to overcharging, or stringing visits out… the way some do.” This Gentile is clearly nothing but a bigot!

5. The wide-spread belief that Jews do not serve proportionately in the combat units of the Army is itself anti-semitic – the very thought! A friend surmises that “Phil” was in “public relations” (i.e. not a combat GI). Phil and his date get all huffy about it. (53)

6. Saying “some of my best friends are Jews” is anti-semitic. “Some of your best friends are Methodist, but you never say it” the girl chimes in (ibid).

7. Actually, it’s not about either religion or race when it comes down to it. This is illustrated by an ersatz Einstein: the absent-minded Jewish scientist. He is going to deny he is Jewish because he is not religious and “science shows there is no such thing as race” (58). In other words: don’t push on whether this is about race or religion: just worship us!

8. Institutions that discriminate are traitorous to the national ideal. This is illustrated by the incident with the Flume Inn (1:25). “They are more than nasty little snobs…They’re persistent little traitors to everything that this country stands for and stands on and you have to fight them… for everything this country stands for.”

9. If, for example, he is falsely taunted, you should not reassure your child that he is not Jewish, because that could imply that there is something desirable about not being Jewish, “that he’s the most wonderful of creatures, a white Christian American. You instantly gave him that lovely taste of superiority” (1:34).

10. If you are ever glad not to be Jewish, remember, this only makes sense because otherwise you too would suffer at the hands of non-Jews (1:35).

11. Job advertisements should emphasize that religion is not important (48).

12. The use of epithets is always evil, even if characteristic behavior is referenced, and even if that characteristic behavior is ratified by Jews themselves. Thus, the Jewess secretary laments going too far (50) — “it’s no fun being the fall guy for the kikey ones.” Gregory Peck (her boss) grouches back, “you have a right to know right now that words like yid and kike and kikey and nigger and coon make me sick no matter who says them.” The Jewess protests, she only said it in respect to a certain type. Peck: “Yeah, but we’re talking about a word first” followed by yet another mini-sermon: “I hate anti-Semitism; and I hate it when comes from you or anybody who’s Jewish just as much as I hate it from a Gentile.”

From a literary standpoint, it is hard to imagine a story more thoroughly constructed, in every detail, as a foil for a sustained sermon. And, like Griffith’s Intolerance, it is a very bad sermon indeed. As specific criticism, I offer the following.

1. It took a peculiar degree of chutzpah for Hollywood to deliver a sermon like this, when Hollywood was already then owned lock, stock, and barrel by Jews. And the Academy Awards that year fell right into step.

2. America was built on the right of free association, not on the idea that every institution built by private funds must open itself to anyone under the sun for any reason. Note the clever reversal of this idea, with the accusation of treason for the contrary view.

3. Stereotypes do not come from no where.

4. As Joseph Sobran pointed out once, if some of your best friends are X, this is in fact evidence of not being maliciously prejudiced against X. Even Greg Bahnsen fell for that sucker punch, I’m sorry to say.

5. Everyone that is not a Jew is assumed to be a Christian, even though no evidence whatsoever is presented that any of them actually are Christians. Thus, when Gregory Peck reveals the truth to secretary June Havoc (1:40) she bursts out “why Mr. Green, you’re a Christian! Why, I never.” Then she gets to endure yet another little lecture from Peck, always ready to preach to any and everyone, on the evil of that kind of discrimination as well.

6. Contrary to the message of this movie, actually being a Christian should be extolled, and urged upon all Jews as well, and certainly presented to one’s children as something of infinite value.

7. It goes completely unremarked that the very identity of the “Jew” as a people, and as a nation within a nation, is based on racial solidarity – the very thing that is condemned when exhibited by anyone other than a Jew!

8. Most evil of all, it is presented that religion should be a matter of indifference in courtship and marriage (though the Jew would certainly have the right to regard it as important — but only if he wanted to!). The most self-righteous and Christ-hating scene in the whole movie is the veranda scene when Phil explains the ruse to his “girl” Dorothy McGuire (42), at which she says, “but you’re not [Jewish], Phil, are you? Not that it would make any difference to me…. I just wondered… not that it would matter to me.” (Despite her protestation, the very thought that it even could matter in a possible universe puts Gregory Peck into another sulk.) Perish the thought that, though the girl was by definition a “Christian” by the theology of this movie, it should make the slightest difference to her in being courted, if he were a Christ-blasphemer.

This whole theme of “anti-semitism” needs examination, and I pledge to do so soon.

In the meantime, I recommend a viewing of this film. It is a very bad movie, and not pleasurable to watch, but it needs to be seen as an exhibition of propaganda in its most outrageous form.

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7 Comments to Movie. Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947.

  • Zowie you’re right. Talk about a mental charlie-horse. It’s fixed now. (I had written Cary Grant.)

  • Regarding the first point 5 above, I did a bit of statistical research.

    The percentage of US population vs percentage in the active army are as follows:

    Protestant 53% vs 55%
    Catholic 23% vs 21%
    Jewish  1.8% vs 0.3%
    Islamic 0.5% vs 0.4%

  • When accused of being prejudiced against (Jews, blacks, foreigners, any X), someone protests in self-defense, “hey, some of my best friends are (Jews, blacks, foreigners, X).” The manual says to respond: “The very fact that you say that shows that you are prejudiced.” Bahnsen endorsed that conclusion; Sobran challenged it.

    A sucker punch is an unexpected blow; for example, in boxing, if the strong arm is used as a feint and the weak arm delivers the unexpected punch.

  • When did Bahnsen endorse that conclusion? That is more of what I am wondering than what a sucker punch is.

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