I went further back in time than I have before for this particular Oscar winner, all the way back to 1948 in fact. The film that won the Best Picture in 1948 was called Gentlemen’s Agreement. To be quite honest, I didn’t like this film very much. I thought it was heavy handed and boring. I appreciate the skill that went into the film but I think I had a hard time connecting with the true meaning of the film because it was made over sixty years ago.
Gentleman’s Agreement takes a heavy handed look at Anti-Semitism in the 1940’s. The film’s main character, Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck), is recently widowed journalist. Recently moving to New York City with his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) and his mother (Anne Revere), Philip is given an assignment by a well-known magazine. Asked to write a piece of anti-Semitism, it takes Philip a while to find a way to feel enthusiastic about the piece. Realizing he can only approach the situation as a gentile, Philip decides to walk a mile in a Jewish man’s shoes and decides to pretend to be Jewish. Telling nobody the truth but his mother, his son and his girlfriend (soon to be fiancé), Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire), Philip feels the full effect of the pain anti-Semitism can cause. Philip attacks the assignment head on, not wavering for a moment when the discrimination affects his job, his family and his pride or even when it threatens his relationship. In the end, Philip finishes up his assignment, reveals the truth about himself and writes his story, unveiling the extent anti-Semitism exists in the world.
With famous director Elia Kazan behind the camera, this is a well-shot film with a story that flowed. Though I thought that the film’s point was entirely too heavy-handed, it is very likely that I get that impression form the film because I am watching six and a half decades after it was originally released. The performances in the film were solid, earning the film a number of different nominations. Gregory Peck was nominated for best actor and Dorothy McGuire earned a nomination for best actress. Anne Revere was nominated for best supporting actress but Celeste Holm took the win for that award. Celeste played Anne Dettrey, the fashion editor for the magazine who eventually becomes one of Philip’s good friends. Another actor who gave a great performance but did not earn a nomination was John Garfield who played Dave Goldman, one of Philip’s friends from growing up who was Jewish. Kazan himself earned the best directing award for the film and of course, the film won best picture.
Gentleman’s Agreement went up against four films, Crossfire, the Bishop’s Wife, Great Expectations and the well-known Miracle on 34th Street. I have not seen any of these other films, other than Miracle on 34th Street, so I cannot voice an opinion as to if the film should have won best picture. I can say that the acting and directing in the film were skillful enough to let me understand how it could be a winning film. As I did with the English Patient, I am going to split up my rating into two categories. I give the film a 1 out 5 for being a film that entertained me. As far as it being a “good” film, a film with good shots and performances, I give the film a 4 out of 5, which gives it a 5 out of 10 overall. Though it is heavy handed, the film delivers a valid point, utilized the skills of some very talented actors and actresses as well as one very talented director.
As should already be evident with these Best Picture posts, I am going in no specific order or pattern. I have a list of all the Best Picture winners since the Oscar’s started and have been randomly choosing films off the list to watch. For this installment in this series of posts I chose the winning film from 1960, a film called The Apartment. Filmed in black and white and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, I was skeptical about this film at first but found it to be one of the better films I have seen in the past couple of weeks.
My skepticisms in watching this film did not come from the fact that it was in black and white. My skepticism came from a dumb assumption I made before actually watching the film. Judging by the screenshots I had seen and by the description of the film, I assumed that it was an old romantic comedy, which aren’t always my favorite films. The Apartment taught me pretty quickly not to, pardon the cliché, judge a movie by its cover. Though the majority of the film did have a humorous, light-hearted feel, the movie touched on a number of fairly serious and dark topics.
The plot and drama of the film is fueled by the ambitious C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), Buddy Boy for short, a man who doesn’t want to become a nameless worker where he works. To climb the corporate ladder at his insurance company, C.C. Baxter allows four of his superiors to use his apartment as a place to enact their extramarital activities. In return, Baxter’s superiors all recommended Baxter for promotion where a fifth higher higher up begins to use the apartment as well. Ignoring the fact that his superiors are taking complete advantage of Baxter, making him leave his own apartment when they need to use it, the real drama enters the film when Baxter falls in love with one of the superior’s mistresses, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).
Fran and Baxter both have their own plotlines that both converge and diverge multiple times and both plotlines are incredibly depressing. Fran, who works as elevator operator in Baxter’s building, has fallen in love with the powerful and married Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) who also happens to be Baxter’s boss. Throughout the film, Fran has to deal with loving a man she must sneak around with and can never truly be with. After watching her suffer endless heartache, Fran falls into such despair that she even attempts to take her own life.
While Fran is dealing with heartache, Baxter spends the film desperately trying to figure out how to stand up for himself. As his superiors continue to take advantage of him and the perks of climbing the corporate ladder do not trump sharing his apartment with five adulterors, Baxter starts to get fed up. Fighting to win Fran’s heart and keep his dignity at the same time, Baxter eventually finds a way to stand up fro himself and be happy with his own life.
This film is full of great performances. Lemmon brings the eager to please yet inherently sad C.C. Baxter to life and MacLaine is absolutely charming as Miss Kubelik. The adulterous superiors are represented by a hilarious crew of fast talking actors including Ray Walston and David Lewis. Jack Druschen gives a hilarious performance as Doctor Dreyfus, Baxter’s judgmental and scolding neighbor. The film was directed by the extremely talented Billy Wilder, winning him Oscars for both Best Director and Best Writing. The film also won the 1960 Oscar for Best Picture beating out the Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers and the Sundowners. I have not seen any of the other nominees for that year but I believe that the Apartment’s win was earned and well deserved. I give this film a 9 out of 10. With acting, directing and writing that create characters the audience can really care about, this film made you care for the characters from beginning to end.