JT Film Review

133 – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Gentleman’s Agreement

4/5 stars

Director – Elia Kazan

Cast – Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Anna Revere, June Havoc, John Garfield, Albert Dekker, Celeste Holm, Jane Wyatt, Dean Stockwell

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Gentleman’s Agreement is a very well structured and performed film which follows journalist Phillip Green (played by Gregory Peck, also in Twelve O’Clock High), who decides that to write a truly great article on the problem of anti-Semitism he must immerse himself in the phobias and outright prejudice faced by Jews. Having moved to New York to do the piece, he informs everyone he meets that he is Jewish, and catalogues the results.

“Catalogues the results” may seem a simple way of saying it, but the character really believes it is that simple. Little by little he realizes the full extent of the bigotry experienced by Jews. He finds that his newly assigned secretary had to change her name on her job application just to be considered for the position; his friend would not be able to stay at his fiance’s unoccupied flat because there is a “gentleman’s agreement” not to let the rooms out to Jews; his son is chased from the playground, and called a “dirty kike”; and Green himself can not stay at an inn on his honeymoon… it is a “restricted” inn. Not officially, of course, but when he confronts the owner he is all but flat-out told so.

I must admit when told the premise of this movie I expected much more virulent hatred to be shown to Green because of his supposed Jewish faith. The movie doesn’t give us bricks being thrown through his window, or show us white sheeted crowds burning crosses; and it is a good thing too. The movie’s point is that racism generally shows itself not through violence, but through apathy. This point is aptly made in a scene toward the end of the movie where Green’s fiance describes a party she had just attended where a man told a disgusting Jewish joke. She tell’s Green’s friend, played by John Garfield (both the actor and the character being Jewish), how angry she was; how she just wanted to throw the man’s words back in his face, to just get up and leave. “What did you do, though?” Garfield asks. “Well, nothing, but I felt horrible,” comes the reply. Garfield quietly explains to her that this is the problem with racism… everyone feels bad about it, yet they do nothing.

The movie is very keen to say this, and it does so well, and many times. As seen today, it says its message perhaps a bit too neatly, too on-the-head. Put bluntly, it is about as subtle as a hammer to the head sometimes. There is one speech in particular which exemplifies this. Green’s sick mother has read his finished article and then says the following speech. Imagine it with a slow zoom, with the mother gradually almost turning to face the camera. The only thing it is missing is a flag slowly waving behind her…

“You know something, Phil? I suddenly want to live to be very old. Very. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it. Maybe that’s why it’s so troubled. Other centuries had their driving forces. What will ours have been when men look back? Maybe it won’t be the American century after all… or the Russian century or the atomic century. Wouldn’t it be wonderful… if it turned out to be everybody’s century… when people all over the world – free people – found a way to live together? I’d like to be around to see some of that… even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while.” 

Perhaps I am a bit too harsh; indeed, this is a major problem with “issue movies”, that you can never look at the film the same way after the passage of time. What seemed brutal and revealing at the time may come as naive and even childishly simple now. Such can be the case with Gentleman’s Agreement, but if seen through the lens of the time period we see that it come from an innocent and genuine place. In fact, despite all this there is a true sense of optimism and genuine truth about this movie that is honestly inspiring. It is through these eyes that the movie should be seen today, and of course, it’s message is truly timeless.

OVERALL

Gentleman’s Agreement is a powerful, if slightly dated movie that brings to light both the prejudices shown to minorities, and most people ignorance to it. It is very well acted, with all-American boy Gregory Peck perfectly cast as the smart but naive lead character. It is a great example of society at the time, and still has truths that can speak to all of us. Definitely recommended.

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“Gentleman’s Agreement” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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December 31, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

114 – Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Twelve O’Clock High REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Henry King

Cast – Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merril, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger

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I had always thought Twelve O’Clock High was just a TV show. I’d never seen it, but I had always thought of it as Hogan’s Heroes without the punch lines. I was unaware of the movie  until recently, and in one of those weird coincidences I very quickly saw it in one of those discount bins. Discount bin hunting is made for finding movies like this. It is an excellent disc too, cleaned up all nice.

Twelve O’Clock High features Gregory Peck (as General Frank Savage) to great effect as a stoic, by-the-book American Air Force general who feels compelled to take over a bomber unit after he deems its commander, a friend of his, to have become too close to his men. The men in the unit have been treated with kid gloves, and so Savage steps in to whip them into shape.

While Gregory Peck is cast perfectly as Frank Savage,  it is the supporting cast (bringing a strong sense of character to their roles) that really fuse the movie together. Of special note is Dean Jagger as Major Stovall. He has a couple of scenes that bookend the movie wonderfully.

Twelve O’Clock High starts off as a character study, a story about the aviators low spirits, and about how to kick them into shape. It’s the classic underdog story really. A “team” has low morale and skills, and are whipped into shape by a tough “coach”. We enjoy seeing these airmen (who thought they were capable of nothing) triumph over their previous failures.

However, halfway through the movie it switches its focus, and starts examining what Savage’s methodology does to him. His drive, coupled with his single-mindedness, comes near to psychologically destroying him. (While this movie is also described as anti-war, we are shown Savage’s methods doing little harm to his men, so it comes across as a portrayal of what leadership can do a man, rather than combat itself.) The underdog story suddenly becomes about the coach, not the players. This last portion of the movie undermines the whole first part.

Well, not undermines… more like elaborates on. In a  good way. The movie becomes about what war can do to a man, and it is when dwelling on this that the movie earns its stripes. Without such an ending, it would have been just another WWII adventure story. A good one, to be sure, but thankfully Twelve O’Clock High rises above that.

OVERALL

Twelve O’Clock High is a classic war movie, and one looks at the effects war actually has on people, rather than being an adventure story or a traditional biopic. Gregory Peck is at his peak here, and the addition of aerial footage actually shot by RAF and Luftwaffe adds a lot of legitimacy here.

When dealing with old movies we often find many that haven’t “aged well”. This is definitely not one of those. I can confidently recommend this to anyone who likes old movies, or indeed, movies in general.

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“Twelve O’Clock High” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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November 27, 2010 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - War, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 – Son of Lassie (1945)

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Son of Lassie REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – S. Sylvan Simon

Cast – Peter Lawford, Donald Crisp, June Lockhart, Nigel Bruce

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“Son of Lassie?” I can hear you think. “What the hell?” I can hear you say. But there it is. Son of Lassie. But please, don’t let the title (which makes the movie sound like a corny, ridiculously contrived “sequel-for-the-point-of-a-sequel”) scare you off. While the title is in hindsight not the best, this movie is great family fare.

This sequel to 1943’s Lassie Come Home is just as good as the original (an under-seen classic), but it does differ enough to make it interesting. As in all the best sequels, it is darker than the first. While the obstacles in the first one amounted to at most thugs with sticks, this film throws Lassie and owner Joe Carraclough (now THERE’S a last name to be proud of) against none other than the Nazi’s themselves. And not absurd caricatures of Nazi’s either (which is unexpected, as this was made in the dying years of WW II) but decent portrayals of Nazi’s.

Yes, Nazi’s. That’s typical of this film. It is at heart a dog movie, it’s a warm family movie, but it shoots higher than average films of its ilk. The bad guys are Nazi’s who Joe tries to avoid after he is forced to parachute from a burning reconnaissance plane into the heart of Norway. (Yes, Norway.) Throughout the movie we meet English POW’s, and Norwegian resistance fighters. We watch a peaceful mountain village get the crap bombed out of it, and, what is molassie441re astonishing, we see the aftermath. People crushed under rock carts, etc. (In a Lassie movie? Yes, in a Lassie movie.) This movie treats it’s WW II subject matter JUST as seriously as The Great Escape for example, maybe even more so. The crowning touch is that the theme played throughout is an adaptation of Edvard Greig’s (a Norwegian) most famous piece, the Piano Concerto in A Minor, a great piece which suits the scenery and the action wonderfully.

One sequence in particular deserves special mention, and that is the final chase sequence. Joe and Lassie are running away from a prisoner work camp with a couple dozen of German soldiers in pursuit. They run pell-mell through beautiful Norwegian hills, rocks, and trees (actually filmed in Northern Canada). They hide under rocks, Joe smashes a soldiers head in and returns fire at the Germans. They run and run, until they find themselves on a large wooden bridge with Nazi’s at both ends. With nowhere else to go, Joe grabs Lassie in his arms and jumps the approx. 30 feet down to the raging water below. He falls down small waterfalls and battles rapids, all the way to a friendly fisherman’s house. It is a spectacular scene, guaranteed to leave you breathless (if you’re a kid) or at the very least interested (if you’re a cynical adult).

OVERALL

This is a great movie that happens to be aimed for the family demographic. It can, I believe, be watched and enjoyed by pretty much anyone. Definitely recommended.

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“Son of Lassie” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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April 15, 2009 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Family, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , | Leave a comment