I had no preconceived notions about this particular film, except the day before we watched it my mother told me it was her all-time favorite movie. That did pique my interest. My mom is a pretty amazing woman. She was heavily involved in civil rights organizing from age 12 on, and in Little Rock, Arkansas she sat in at a segregated cafe at the counter, insisted she was one eighth black and demanded service. She was also heavily involved in anti-war organizing during Vietnam. I was very influenced politically by this woman, who also was part of the historic Milgram experiment, and was in the small minority of brave people who did not inflict any harm on others despite orders to do so. Needless to say, I wanted to see her favorite movie. And I can understand why this was it.
The premise of the film is that widower journalist Philip Schuyler Greene, new at a New York City magazine, is assigned to write an exposé on anti-semitism in America. To do so, he assumes the identity of a Jewish man. The only people wise to his true identity are his immediate family, his editor, and his editor’s divorced niece Kathy, with whom he begins a serious romantic relationship. The people around Phil are supportive of him, or at least profess to be. Not surprisingly, he encounters some instances of outright bigotry. Even more infuriating, he finds prejudiced attitudes internalized in otherwise decent people. He finds himself in conflict with Kathy repeatedly. While she abhors anti-semitism, she finds herself unable to defy the bigotry of her peers. This conflict reaches an acute stage after Phil’s lifelong friend Dave Goldman enters the story. Dave is an Army officer and engineer, preparing to return to civilian life. His search for employment is complicated by difficulty finding housing for himself and his family, a problem seemingly easy to solve since Kathy has an unused cottage upstate she could rent to Dave. Yet she does not, as it is in an “exclusive” community where the people observe unwritten rules against allowing in Jews. She has no hatred of Dave or his ethnicity. She just can’t bring herself to step outside the standards of her community.
This isn’t the first film to deal one way or another with prejudice or anti-semitism, but there is something forward looking in how the theme is presented here. The conflict isn’t centered around ranting bigots or violent mobs. It focuses instead on the unwritten rules and assumptions of society that allow one person to advance in life but quietly turn another away based on something as arbitrary as one surname or another. It is about the people who are sincere when they say they hate prejudice. Just not as much as they hate being the one who is rocking the boat. It’s a point worth making, but an uncomfortable one as well, because we’ve all been this person at some point in our lives.
As much as I appreciate this nuanced manner in which the film discusses the topic, the quality of dialogue doesn’t match. It seems like in exploring this controversial Continue reading