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20TH CENTURY FOX

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Elia Kazan
Cast:
Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, June Havoc, Albert Dekker
Writing Credits:
Moss Hart, based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson

MPAA:
Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress-Celeste Holm.
Nominated for Best Actor-Gregory Peck; Best Actress-Dorothy McGuire; Best Supporting Actress-Anne Revere; Best Film Editing; Best Screenplay.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Standard 1.33:1
Audio:
English Digital Stereo
French Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
Subtitles:
English, Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 1/14/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actors Celeste Holm and June Havoc and Film Critic Richard Schickel
• AMC Backstory Episode
• Two Movietone Newsreels
• Still Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer


PURCHASE
DVD

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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Gentleman's Agreement: Fox Studio Classics Edition (1947)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2003)

Growing up I got subjected to many of those awful "Afterschool Specials". Actually, some of them seemed decent, but something about the simplistic way in which these shows would neatly and lamely educate us kiddies about a variety of issues seemed off-putting even back then. Yeah, I suppose they offered positive messages, but the execution appeared lacking; the programs tended to beat the viewers over the head with the intended themes.

Perhaps 1947's Gentleman's Agreement stood as the prototype for those shows. Possibly the only winner of the Best Picture Oscar that could easily fit into that 4 PM weekday timeslot, it wants to tell all the youngsters that "anti-Semitism is bad". On that subject, you'll get no disagreement from me, but the way in which Agreement makes its points seems less than subtle. It takes the battle against prejudice to an almost ludicrous level.

The plot finds writer Phil Green (Gregory Peck) in search of a new topic on which he can write a magazine article. He's been assigned anti-Semitism but he can't figure out a good angle through which to cover the story. Eventually, he decides to go undercover and pretend he's Jewish so he can discover the truth from the inside.

This kind of plot popped up in many movies since 1947, though I can only think of instances in which the characters experienced what it was like to be black; that occurred in releases from Watermelon Man to Black Like Me and even an episode of M*A*S*H. I don't know if Agreement pioneered this genre, but I can't think of anything older than it. I also don't know if the other similar projects came across as so heavy-handed, but I doubt they could be more overbearing, since Agreement so heavily bombards us with its message.

I can't deny there's value in the movie's theme, since it may enlighten some people to the insidious nature of prejudice. I also expect this is a film that had a much more substantial impact when it first appeared than it does today. After all, in 1947 they didn’t air the “Afterschool Special" series, and I suppose these topics remained hidden more than in modern times. Agreement also nicely exposes elitist hypocrisy and some double standards.

However, the whole project seems so self-righteous and stiff that it becomes a drag. The acting appears reasonably good, and the script remains fairly intelligent, but the overwhelmingly suffocating tone of the piece makes it hard to watch. Plus, I really hated the end of the movie. (Potential spoilers ahead! Skip ahead two paragraphs to avoid!) Phil falls for Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) and they plan to marry. However, friction enters the relationship because she appears to be a tea-party liberal who'll talk the talk about eradicating prejudice but does nothing about it. Eventually the two go splitsville and it looks like Phil will connect with co-worker Anne (Celeste Holm), someone who seems much more compatible with him. However, by the end of the movie, he gets back with Kathy and poor Anne is apparently left out in the cold.

The film fails to explain what happens between Anne and Phil. This really irked me. Kathy was such a simp, and Anne was the only genuinely interesting and sympathetic character in the piece. Holm plays her with such a nice air of sad vulnerability that I felt bad for her; Phil leaves her behind without any apparent explanation.

Well, even without that unsatisfying conclusion, I'd still regard the movie as a dull one. I admired the intentions of Gentleman's Agreement but thought it tried too hard to make its points. The filmmakers hammer home same themes a thousand times; if I want to encounter mind-numbing, bone-crushing repetition, I'll just read one of my reviews. Gentleman's Agreement was politically correct before such a concept existed, and that doesn't make for a stimulating film experience.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio D+ / Bonus B-

Gentleman's Agreement appears an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The original DVD started well but got dirtier and less attractive as it progressed. In an odd twist, this new version presented a moderately flawed image at the beginning, but matters improved as time passed.

Sharpness generally seemed solid. Some wide shots demonstrated moderate softness, but these examples appeared infrequent and didn’t intrude terribly on the picture. Overall, the movie looked reasonably distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no issues, but I noticed slightly prominent edge enhancement at times.

Black levels seemed very deep but were probably slightly too heavy. There appeared to be little detail in dark hair or clothes, so while the depth of the shades looked impressive, it was at the expense of some clarity. Shadow detail suffered slightly from the same phenomenon but actually was fairly clear and appropriately opaque during low-light scenes.

As I noted earlier, print flaws varied and cropped up in a pattern that reversed what I saw in the old DVD. Actually, it didn’t seem so much that the image became cleaner as it progressed. Instead, it simply contrasted with the prior release because it didn’t get worse as it went. Instead, I noticed a moderate level of defects throughout the flick. Grain appeared somewhat heavy at times, and I saw various examples of grit, specks, marks, spots, scratches, nicks, and blotches. In addition, occasionally I witnessed a "frame jump" during which the image jittered briefly.

So which image did I prefer – the original or the new one? Frankly, it seemed like a wash. The old release suffered from a distracting inconsistency, but it provided some moments that appeared cleaner. The re-issue lacked scenes that became as dirty as the worst the old one had to offer, but it seemed more consistently flawed. In the end, neither picture seemed to outdo the other, as both offered fairly average quality for a film of this vintage.

When you saw the letter grade presented for audio quality, I assigned that to the track that featured the most “technically advanced” mix. For example, this means that if a movie includes both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Dolby Surround 2.0 edition, I’ll probably only grade the 5.1 version. I may listen to the 2.0 mix and even comment upon it, but I don’t offer a mark for it in that area. I provide dual grades only if the disc includes two 5.1 mixes that seem noticeably different.

I only gave a grade for the stereo mix of Gentleman’s Agreement simply to maintain the continuity of my reviews. However, it meant that the letter grade didn’t tell the whole story. That ranking related to the stereo soundtrack of Agreement, but that audio didn’t represent the best material heard on the DVD. In fact, the stereo track seemed decidedly inferior to the movie’s original monaural mix.

The soundfield of the stereo mix displayed absolutely no sense of spatial accuracy. Instead, all audio elements came from a vague place that simply spread the material broadly across the various speakers. This meant the speech came from the sides in an odd way that appeared loose and distracting. It appeared that nothing specific emanated from various locations; instead, speech, effects and music just created an auditory mush that seemed ridiculously unrealistic. When I checked the individual speakers, I noticed that everything came from each channel; it made no sense that speech popped up in the surrounds.

Audio quality for the stereo mix didn’t seem terribly good either. The track suffered from an excessive sense of reverb that made everything sound thin and tinny. I’ve heard some remixes that provided heavier levels of echo, but this one still appeared to substitute that element for an actual sense of atmosphere. The track lacked depth and generally sounded somewhat harsh and metallic.

Happily, the included monaural soundtrack seemed much more satisfying. Though the mix showed its age, it appeared quite clear and pleasing. Speech was vastly more natural and distinct, and the audio lacked that horrible sense of echo and coldness that tainted the stereo version. Some hiss still appeared, and at times the mix seemed a little harsh, but overall I found the mono track to seem fine for its age. It’s definitely the only acceptable option for Gentleman’s Agreement, and I’d give it a “B-”.

While my comparisons between the two transfers didn’t favor one DVD over the other, I felt that the new release provided moderately superior audio. The original suffered from periodically edgy and rough speech, and that occasionally happened here as well. However, dialogue came across as cleaner overall, and the lines were generally fairly warm and clear. I didn’t notice the heavy sibilance and harshness I detected on the old disc. Although some background noise appeared – most notably via a light hum – I thought that the new release didn’t deliver as many source concerns. I gave the old disc a “C” for audio, so the “B-“ I awarded the new one’s monaural mix represented a decent upgrade in that department.

This new “Studio Classics” release of Gentleman’s Agreement greatly expands that skimpy supplements found on the old release. The new one starts with an audio commentary from actors Celeste Holm and June Havoc plus film critic Richard Schickel. All three were taped separately for this edited but generally screen-specific track.

To say the least, Schickel dominated the piece. The actors tossed in the occasional tidbit that related some information about their experiences on the set, but they couldn’t have appeared more than five percent of the time. For all intents and purposes, Schickel did this one solo. As a whole, the commentary seemed spotty, as Schickel didn’t provide a great deal of insight into the production. While he gave us some decent notes about the shoot as well as an attempt to place the film in historical perspective.

However, he mostly just described the plot and didn’t really give us much depth. In a positive vein, Schickel didn’t seem particularly enamored with the movie, and he offered a surprising number of criticisms. Usually this kind of commentary sticks almost totally with praise, but Schickel probably related more negative than positive thoughts, which made this track rather atypical. Nonetheless, it remained fairly spotty and didn’t do a whole lot to illuminate matters.

Next we find an episode of AMC Backstory that covers Gentleman’s Agreement. In this 24-minute and 25-second program, we get the standard mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. Oddly, the program doesn’t credit the speakers as they appear, but I recognized actor Celeste Holm, film historian Rudy Behlmer, movie executives Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and John Garfield’s daughter Julie. Director Elia Kazan also appears in an older clip.

The “Backstory” provides a superficial but useful examination of the movie. It mostly concentrates on the historical context in which it was producer, as we learn about Jews in Hollywood, resistance to this story, and the backlash that followed, especially as it related to the “Red Hunt”. The show doesn’t tell us a lot about the making of the movie itself, as those elements seem pretty quick and shallow, but the attempts to illuminate the period appear helpful and intriguing.

Movietone News breaks down into two smaller pieces. “Oscars Presented for Motion Picture Achievements” runs 99 seconds and covers some of that year’s ceremony. The 53-second “Hollywood Spotlight: Darryl Zanuck honored for producing best motion picture of 1947” shows Bob Hope as he gives Look Magazine awards to Gregory Peck and Zanuck. It offers one funny bit, and both clips seem like nice historical artifacts.

Inside the Still Gallery, we find 35 images. These offer a mix of production photos, publicity shots, and ads. In addition to the theatrical trailer for Agreement, we find clips for fellow Studio Classics releases All About Eve and How Green Was My Valley. All three offer trailers that apparently accompanied a post-Oscar reissue.

The Academy like to toss their Best Picture prizes to movies that present positive, socially-acceptable messages, and no film exemplifies that trend more than 1947's victor, the dull and pedantic Gentleman's Agreement. No other winner may have approached the excesses of this movie, either, as it drives home its point with painful solemnity. The DVD offers fairly mediocre picture plus relatively positive sound and a decent set of supplements. As a historical footnote, Gentleman's Agreement may merit a rental; not only does it have a place in the Oscar list but it shows a side of the mid-Twentieth century we don't often see. However, that's the most I can recommend, as I doubt this is a movie you'd want to experience more than once; even a single showing may end up as a chore.

Since this DVD comes as a reissue, I need to address the concept of repurchasing for owners of the old one. Anyone who wants a copy of Agreement and doesn’t already possess one should go with this special edition; it seems consistently superior to the original. However, I don’t know if this new package merits a repurchase. Picture quality appears fairly similar between the two, and while the re-release’s audio shows some improvements, they don’t come across as radical. The reissue provides a significantly more substantial roster of extras, but these don’t seem terribly strong. Ultimately, serious fans of Agreement will probably want to upgrade, but others with a less intense interest should stick with that DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 15
35:
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