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1947: Gentleman's Agreement

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A widowed reporter, newly moved to New York City with his mother and his son, is given an assignment to write an article on anti-semitism. After agonizing on how he can write anything interesting or new on the subject, he decides to go undercover as a Jew, and hopefully experience anti-semitism first hand. Since he's newly moved to NYC, no one knows of his background, and the ruse is pretty easy to keep up.

Of course, he begins to experience various forms of anti-semitism, but most trying for him is the subtle ways in which the girl he meets (who he shares the secret with), despite seemingly being quite literal and anti-anti-semitic on the surface, subtle acquiesces to bigotry in other ways, including her desire not to challenge the eponymous gentleman's agreement about not renting or selling real-estate to Jews where her house is, in Darien, Connecticut.

This film was quite eye-opening for me. While of course things are made dramatic for film, and it deals solely with upper-class anti-semitism, I had no idea this existed at all. Gentleman's agreements, "restricted" hotels, epithets I had never heard and only had been vaguely aware of, etc. Apparently the film was quite controversial at the time, and the producer, director, and some of the actors being called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (what an Orwellian name...), and due to their refusal to testify*, the actors ended up on the Hollywood Blacklist.

The movie was quite enjoyable, and all though overly dramatic and narrow in it's treatment of anti-semitism, the anger he feels is palpable, and the tension he has with his fiancé over her tacit bigotry is very well rendered. I'm glad I saw this film.

*: Or refused to answer a question about whether they are or were a part of the Communist Party, according to one source I read. Wow, times were different then.
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October 2011

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