GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT

SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991 & Diversity;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Female Role Model; Parenting;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.

AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1947; 118 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.

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MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS

TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

 

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

 

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

DESCRIPTION

The year is 1947. Phil Green, a journalist, has been hired by a popular magazine to write a series of articles about anti-Semitism in the U.S. He decides to pretend that he is Jewish and to record the reactions of the people he meets. While preparing the series, Phil meets Kathy Lacey, the niece of his publisher. It was Kathy who had initially proposed the series of articles that Phil is writing. She and Phil fall in love, but they find that Kathy has subtle and previously hidden anti-Semitic feelings. These are unacceptable to Phil who believes that prejudice in all its forms is evil. The film is the story of Phil’s experiences in writing the series and how he and Kathy try to resolve their differences.

“Gentleman’s Agreement” is based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson. The book was initially serialized in the magazine Cosmopolitan.

SELECTED AWARDS & CAST

Selected Awards:

1947 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Kazan), Best Supporting Actress (Holm); 1947 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Director (Kazan), Best Film; 1948 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture, Best Director (Kazan), Best Supporting Actress (Holm); Special Award for Best Juvenile Actor (Stockwell); 1947 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress (McGuire); Best Actor (Peck), Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay.

 

Featured Actors:

Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, June Havoc, Albert Dekker, Jane Wyatt, Dean Stockwell, Nicholas Joy.

 

Director:

Elia Kazan.

BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE

The lessons of this film are not limited to anti-Semitism but apply to any type of prejudice. It builds on our empathy with Phil, the crusading journalist, and Kathy, a woman torn between the attitudes of her class and what she knows is right. We are led to respect and like them both. As Kathy discovers her own prejudice, we come to understand how easily bigotry and insensitivity can creep into our own attitudes. When Phil makes it clear that he will not marry Kathy unless she changes, we empathize with her struggle to rid herself of prejudice. When she triumphs, we are shown that like Kathy, we can eliminate prejudice in ourselves.

Because of its skillful use of a dramatic device to help its viewers to grow, mature and reconcile inconsistent parts of their own personalities, “Gentleman’s Agreement” rates as one of the best films ever made. If children can be helped to see the film in this way, “Gentleman’s Agreement” becomes an emotion picture that speaks to the intelligent heart of the viewer. It is likely to add significant memories to the fund of experience which is used by each viewer to understand his or her universe and to determine future actions.

The character of Phil Green, the writer, is a male role model for a man who will not tolerate injustice and who is a good father. Green’s mother is a female role model for a morally conscious and nurturing mother and grandmother. The character of Kathy is a role model for someone willing to take a deep look into herself, to change, and to grow.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS

MINOR. Almost everyone in this movie smokes like a chimney.

PARENTING POINTS

Read the Benefits section carefully. When the movie is over tell your child that the movie is about any type of prejudice and talk about your personal struggle to rid yourself of prejudice. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Questions.

HELPFUL BACKGROUND

Prejudice against different races, ethnicities and other religions, once learned, is one of the hardest attitudes to change. Total elimination of prejudice is a lifelong project and even for mature adults who have spent years working to eliminate prejudice in their attitudes, it will crop up when you least expect it.

For several years after the Second World War, there was a severe housing shortage in parts of the U.S. As demobilized GIs came home and started families, the demand for housing skyrocketed. The Dave Goldman character was caught in this housing shortage. It was almost impossible for him to find housing for his family so that he could take the job that had been offered to him in New York. It generally took the clout of a major company, such as Phil Green’s employer, to get an apartment.

Gerald L.K. Smith (1898 – 1976) was a radical right-wing agitator and isolationist who claimed to be a protestant Christian fundamentalist. His statements against Jews, Catholics, blacks, labor unions and Communists were notorious. Theodore G. Bilbo was governor of Mississippi from 1916 – 1920 and 1928 – 1932. He was infamous for his racist speeches and his advocacy of the use of the poll tax to keep blacks from voting.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

 

2. See the Quick Discussion Questions on the right side of this page.

 

3. What was the “Gentleman’s Agreement?” Could the parties to such an agreement really be gentlemen?

Suggested Response:

The agreement was not to admit Jewish people to certain public facilities such as hotels, restaurants, and clubs, not to hire them to work in certain businesses, and not to allow them to live in certain neighborhoods. It was called a “Gentleman’s Agreement” because it was unstated, something that people, men and women, understood but did not talk about. Discriminating against people on the basis of their religion is not within the true meaning of being a “gentlemen.”

 

4. Look at this dialog from the film:

Elaine Wales: You just let them get one wrong Jew in here, and it’ll come out of us. It’s no fun being the fall guy for the kikey ones.

Phil Green: Miss Wales, I’m going to be frank with you. I want you to know that words like yid and kike and kikey and coon and nigger make me sick no matter who says them.

Elaine Wales: Oh, but I only said it for a type.

Phil Green: Yeah, but we’re talking about a the word first.

Elaine Wales: Why, sometimes I even say it to myself, about me, I mean. Like, if I’m about to do something I know I shouldn’t, I’ll say, “Don’t be such a little kike.” That’s all.

Was Miss Wales prejudiced against her own people? Against herself? Justify your answer and tell us what this fact says, if anything, about her own self-esteem?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. But one of the serious problems with prejudice is what it does to the self-esteem of the people who grow up in a society in which they are thought to be inferior.

 

Continue to the Male and Female Role Models Section to continue to explore the theme of the film.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING

MALE ROLE MODEL

1. Do you consider the character of Phil Green to be a male role model? Justify your answer.

Suggested Response:

Phil Green is a male role model. He is a good father to his son and he is a righteous man. He will not tolerate prejudice among those that he cares about and will give up the woman he loves rather than tolerate prejudice within her.

 

FEMALE ROLE MODEL

2. Was Ann (the fashion editor) right when she told Phil Green that Kathy was shallow? Did the character of Kathy grow and mature during the movie?

Suggested Response:

Ann was wrong. Kathy acts with integrity and courage because when she comes to understand that there is a part of her character that is prejudiced, she roots it out. Prejudice is very difficult to overcome and often requires constant vigilance and self-correction. The fact that Kathy had a personal motive for ridding herself of prejudice might make it somewhat easier for her because she must do this to retain Phil’s love, but it is still a great achievement.

 

3. What, if anything, did Kathy do that you admire?

Suggested Response:

Ridding oneself of prejudice is something greatly to admire.

 

PARENTING

4. Evaluate Phil Green as a parent?

Suggested Response:

Phil Green was a good parent. He cared about his son in a way that his son knew how his father felt. He spent time with his son. However, Phil Green’s greatest achievement as a parent was that he provided his son with a great role model.

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

 

RESPECT

(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

 

See the Quick Discussion Questions.

ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES

See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

 

  • Pick a group of people that, in some way, you are prejudiced against. Describe the origin of this prejudice — you had to learn it from someone. Describe how this prejudice manifests itself in thought and action. Then describe three specific steps that you will take to improve your character by getting rid of this prejudice. Be honest with yourself. Your response will be kept confidential. Your paper should be between one and two pages in length, typed, double spaced.

BRIDGES TO READING

If your child is fascinated by the movie, suggest that he or she read the book by Laura Z. Hobson.

LINKS TO THE INTERNET

This Learning Guide was last updated on February 3, 2012.