The Greatest Show on Earth – Best Picture Winners


The next movie I tackled on my list of Best Picture Winners is the 1952 Best Picture winner The Greatest Show on Earth.

The Greatest Show on Earth Plot Summary (Spoilers):

highwireThe Greatest Show on Earth begins with a voice over and various scenes from a circus. A man named Brad Bradon, played by Charlton Heston, checks in with various circus employees, several of which question him about rumors that the circus will be running a short season that year. Brad assures them that the circus will be running a full season.

The scene shifts to a group of suits discussing the merits of only playing the big cities. One of them breaks the news to Brad that they only plan to run for 10 weeks. Brad objects, saying they can’t put 1400 people out of work. The suits counter that they can’t risk $25k a day on a “sentimental journey.” Brad tells them that playing only the big cities would cut the heart out of the show and destroy it within 2 seasons. One of the suits suggests that he might consider more dates if only they had a bigger headliner. Brad tells them they have “The Great Sebastian.” The suits point out that he has wrecked every show he’s been with, but Brad insists that the patrons he will draw is worth the risk. He wins the suits over to the merits of signing The Great Sebastian, but points out that the only way to sign him was to promise him a full season. One of the suits is pissed about that, but Brad counters that you can’t get good acts for a 10 week show. The suits agree to go with Brad’s plan, as long as they are making money.

After Brad leaves the meeting, one of the suits points out that The Great Sebastian only works in the center ring. Brad acknowledges this and the suit says he’d rather crawl in the cage with the lions than have to tell Holly she’s out of the center ring. Brad agrees, but declines the suit’s offer to take the blame.

hollyBrad goes to find Holly, who is rehearsing her trapeze act. He orders her to get down and she dismounts the trapeze and lands in Brad’s arms. She enthusastically kisses Brad and says that’s for getting the circus a full season. Holly annouces that Brad got them a full season to the rest of the performers and they all celebrate. Brad tries to temper their enthusiasm by telling them they only get the full season if they make money. News that The Great Sebastian will be joining the show gets out and Holly seems upset, though the rest of the cast seems happy about it.

Brad tries to console Holly, saying he didn’t want to sign Sebastian, but it was the only way to get a full season, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Eventually, Holly gives in and Brad tells her she’ll be performing in ring 1. Holly tells Brad that she’d do anything for him. Brad tells her that “out under the sky” she knows how he feels about her, but under the big top, she’s just another performer that he has to treat like any other. Holly is pissed and storms off after accusing Brad of having sawdust in his veins.

The scene shifts to a couple of men discussing their plans for the show. One of them warns the other that Brad is a tougher customer than he’s used to dealing with, but the man insists he’ll roll right over Brad if he has to. The man in charge, named Mr. Henderson, advises the other man, named Harry, not to tangle with Brad or try to bribe him. Mr. Henderson hands Harry a bag of peanuts and walks off. Harry discovers a roll of cash in the bag, that is meant to bankroll his operations.

holly-buttonsHolly commiserates with the clown Buttons, played by James Stewart, about her troubles with Brad. Buttons tricks Holly into seeing the situation from Brad’s point of view and she decides she’s been acting like a big idiot. However, she’s still unhappy that she feels Brad loves the circus more than her. She questions Buttons about why he never tries to romance any of the girls in the show and he tells her that he already has a love, though he won’t say who. Holly compliments Buttons on how well he wraps the gauze around her trapeze bar and Buttons looks concerned.

The circus is ready to move out, but Sebastian has not arrived. Just as Brad barks orders for someone to find him, he pulls up, trailed by a pack of police officers. The Police have been pursuing Sebastian thanks to a number of traffic infractions and one of them tells him he’ll need to pay $100 in fines or spend 60 days in jail. Sebastian shows them his empty wallet and then tells Brad he’d hate to miss the first two months of the show. Brad agrees to pay Sebastian’s fines.

A few of the ladies are already aquainted with Sebastian from past jobs. Angel tells a jealous elephant trainer named Klaus that she wouldn’t want Sebastian if he were dipped in gold, but Phyllis seems much more enthusiastic about him. Sebastian takes a shine to Holly, but Phyllis warns him that he just put Holly out of the center ring and she’s not real keen on him because of it.

sebastian-hollySebastian ignores Phyllis’ advise to avoid Holly and runs up to introduce himself. He apologizes for putting her out of the center ring and then goes into flirt mode. Sebastian tells Holly to come with him to speak to the boss and he will have Holly put back in the center ring. She excitedly agrees.

The pair go to speak to Brad and Holly tells him that Sebastian wants to give her the center ring. Brad tells Holly that Sebastian is the star of the show and the star plays the center ring. Holly angrily tells Brad that if he won’t give her the center ring, she’ll take it by making herself the star of the show. Sebastian tells her there’s no way she’s going to take the center ring from him. Holly promises Sebastian that whatever he does, she’s going to do it better and the auidiences are going to be watching her.

The press latches on the story of Holy and Sebastian’s competition for the center ring, as word of their death defying duel spreads. The auidiences go crazy over their one-upmanship, but Buttons expresses concern to Brad that this can’t go on much longer before one of them gets hurt or killed. Brad blows him off, saying this is the circus. Holly nearly falls, while doing a chair balancing trick, but catches herself on the bar. After they come down, Brad tells them to cut out the “dogfights” and stick to their acts. Holly tells Brad that he just doesn’t understand and that only another flyer like Sebastian could truly understand what it’s like to be her. Angel tries to warn Holly off pursuing Sebastian, telling her that she already has a good man in Brad, but Holly insists that Brad only cares about the circus.

buttonsDuring the parade, an older lady signals to Buttons and he hops off his float and puts on a show for the kids around the lady’s section. He then offers her a fake bunch of flowers and she whispers in his ear that they’ve been asking about him again. He assures her that they’ll never find him behind this nose. He asks the lady for a smile he can remember until next year and then leaves, saying “it’s alright mother.”

The circus moves on to another city. In spite of being told not to, Holly is doing a dangerous act, that a previous performer was killed during, and her rigging is not set up for. When Brad learns of it, he orders some workers to bring her down. When they do, the crowd laughs and Holly is furious at Brad. She accuses him of being jealous. Sebastian and Angel both critsize Brad for turning Holly into a laughing stock. Brad shows Angel the frayed rope Holly had been swinging on and Angel urges him to show Holly how his actions saved her, or else she’ll never forgive him.

holly-bradSebastian attempts to romance Holly, but Angel interrupts by having her elephant pick Holly up and carry her off. Angel escorts Holly over to Brad and leaves her there. Holly tells Angel to keep her nose out of her business. Brad shows Holly the frayed rope she had been swinging on and it finally dawns on her that Brad probably saved her life. Brad tells Holly to knock off her duel with Sebastian before she gets hurt. Holly is pleased that Brad says he cares about her and not just the circus. Brad tells her that if she doesn’t tone down her act, he’s putting a net under her and the same goes for Sebastian.

harrySebastian continues his pursuit of Holly, which prompts her to advise Brad to marry her quick or lose her forever. Meanwhile, Harry is stirring up trouble on the mid-way by ripping off customers in his rigged games of chance. Brad busts in on one of Harry’s scams and forces him to refund the money he swindled his customers out of. Harry threatens Brad for getting involved, but Brad insists that he runs a clean show. Brad kicks Harry’s ass and throws him in a mud puddle and then tells him to get lost.

Mr. Henderson confronts Brad about throwing Harry out of the show. Brad refuses to take Harry back, saying wherever Henderson operates, the midway is full of pickpockets and shady gambling. Henderson tells Brad he won’t stand a chance fighting against his outfit, but Brad refuses to back down.

sebastianWhen Holly antagonizes Sebastian about working with a net, while she does not, Sebastian annouces he is about to do a new, dangerous trick and then dramatically cuts one of the ropes holding his net up, before going on for his act. Holly screams at Sebastian not to attempt the trick without a net, but he does it anyway. Sebastian misses the bar and falls to the ground, as the audience screams. Brad rushes to help Sebastian, but commands the other employees to keep the show rolling. An obviously injured Sebastian commands Brad to walk him off, rather than have him carried off in a stretcher. Brad and Buttons help Sebastian leave the show ring, to the applause of the crowd. The MC tells the crowd to stay in their seats and that The Great Sebastian is shaken, but not badly hurt.

Contrary to the MC’s annoucement, Sebastian is pretty busted up and after receiving treatment from the circus doctor and Buttons at the first aid tent, he is transported by ambulance to the hospital. The circus doctor is impressed by Buttons’ medical skills and Buttons claims to have been a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy. Holly praises Sebastian for attempting such a “wonderful” trick and he assures her that he’ll do it next time and she’ll be the one falling….for him. Holly sobs in Brad’s arms and he assures her that Sebastian will live. He also tells her that she will be playing center ring tomorrow. Holly protests that she didn’t want it like this.

sourpussThe show goes on and eventually Sebastian returns from his hospital stay. Most of the performers are excited to see him again, though Klaus is still jealous. Brad seems initially happy to have Sebastian back, but when Sebastian refuses to shake his hand and Holly is over the top enthusiastic about his return, Brad seems to sour on him a bit. Sebastian annouces that he doesn’t want the center ring back from Holly and Brad questions why. Sebastian says that he only returned to collect his things. Sebastian tells them that he ran into some girl he hadn’t seen since Paris at a rival show and he plans to work there. Brad doesn’t buy it and snatches Sebastian’s coat away to reveal his severely damaged right hand and arm. Holly blames herself for Sebastian’s injury, but he tells her that it isn’t her fault. Brad offers Sebastian a job with the show, but he refuses. After Sebastian leaves, Holly begins to blame herself again for pushing him into taking the net down. Brad tries to console her. Holly insists that she’s at fault and she thinks that Sebastian’s attempt to hide his injury from her is proof that he loves her and that she should leave with him and try to make things up to him. Brad tries to stop her, saying Sebastian doesn’t need her pity, but Holly leaves.

Holly finds Sebastian packing his things and tells him that she wants to be with him, but he doesn’t believe her. Sebastian tells her that she just feels guilty for goading him into cutting down the net. Holly tells Sebastian that he came back because he loves her, but he denies it. He also tells Holly that no one is to blame for his injury, but him. Eventually, Holly manages to convince Sebastian that he should stay, because she loves him.

holly-angelTensions escalate between Angel and Holly. Angel thinks Holly is just playing noble by staying with Sebastian and that eventually her lies will be exposed. Holly wants to know why Angel cares so much about what she does with Sebastian and Angel responds that she doesn’t care what happens to Sebastian, but that Brad doesn’t deserve to be treated the way Holly treats him. Angel declares that if Holly doesn’t want Brad, she does.

Angel makes her move on Brad and Klaus is not happy about it. Harry goads Klaus about it and tells him that he’ll never manage to get Angel away from Brad, unless he has the money to buy her stuff like Brad does. Harry tells Klaus he can help him get the money and revenge.

klausDuring the next show, Holly rushes to Brad and tells him that he better watch Angel, because word on the street is that she’s headed for trouble. During the act where Angel puts her head under the foot of one of the elephants, Klaus asks her if she thinks Brad would be as interested in her if the elephant were to lean a bit too hard on her face. Angel panics and tries to get up, but Klaus stops her. Klaus tells Angel she will never go to any other man, but before he can do anything else, Brad interrupts and gets the elephant to lift its foot so Angel can get up. Brad orders Klaus to get his things and get off the lot.

That night, an investigator shows up looking for a doctor. He shows Brad a picture of the man they are looking for, but Brad says he doesn’t recognize him. He asks the investigator what the man is wanted for. He replies that the man is wanted for murdering his young wife, who was dying anyway. He tells Brad that he is looking for him at the circus, because the doctor used to chase circuses as a kid. He wants to ride along and fingerprint some of Brad’s employees at the next town. Brad agrees.

brad-buttonsBrad has a conversation with Buttons on the train. He tells him that there is a cop riding with them who is looking for a former doctor who murdered his wife. Buttons tells Brad that he has learned that Sebastian still has feeling in his injured hand and that means that a complete recovery might still be possible for him. Brad asks Buttons if that’s a professional opinion and Buttons responds that it’s a “clown’s opinion.” He then suggests that if Brad riles Sebastian up a bit, he might get his flyer back. Brad tells Buttons that the cop is planning on taking some fingerprints when they get to the next town.

Brad accuses Sebastian of faking his injury in order to get Holly, in order to rile him into trying to move the arm, which Sebastian does. They are all excited when Sebastian is able to successfully move his arm, when he tries to punch Brad. The circus doctor thinks with additional treatment that it’s possible Sebastian may regain use of his arm and Sebastian thanks Brad for doing this for him.

bad-klausMeanwhile, Klaus and Harry stop the train by placing a flare on the tracks and then board the car where the money is kept. Harry orders the occupant of the car out at gunpoint and when he exits the car, Klaus knocks him out with his elephant goad. Klaus and Harry grab the money and flee in their car.

trainwreckKlaus stops the car when he sees the second circus train approaching the first, which is stopped on the tracks. Sebastian enters the women’s sleeping car and proposes to Holly. Meanwhile, Klaus is dismayed that Angel is on the train that appears ready to crash into the first train. Harry urges Klaus to take the money and run, but Klaus is determined to turn the lights back on to prevent the trains from crashing. Klaus whacks Harry with his goad and then begins yelling for them to stop the train. He then drives his car up the tracks, still yelling for the other train to stop. They hit the brakes when they see Klaus’ car on the tracks, but they are unable to stop in time and plow into the rear of the first train, after hitting Klaus’ car and sending it flying off the tracks. The second train derails, sending people and animals everywhere.

Angel gets pinned in the debris of her wrecked car, but Holly and Sebastian rescue her. Brad is also pinned under some wreckage. Many of the workers are injured and a number of dangerous animals are freed from their cages. The circus doctor is knocked out cold. When the men are unable to free Brad from the wreckage, Angel grabs one of the elephants and uses her to pull the wreckage off him. Even while he is still trapped under the wreckage, Brad is insisting the show will carry on, in spite of the men’s insistence that there’s been too much damage.

holly-buttons2Brad is seriously injured and possibly bleeding to death. Holly goes in search of Buttons, remembering how he patched up Sebastian after his accident. Holly finds Buttons trying to leave the scene of the wreck. She stops him and tells him that Brad is hurt and the doctor is knocked out. She reveals that she suspects Buttons is the man from the newspaper article she saw about a doctor who killed his wife. Holly begs Buttons to help Brad, because she loves him and Buttons agrees.

Brad warns Buttons that if that detective sees him helping Brad, he won’t need fingerprints to indentify him, but Buttons refuses to leave. Buttons determines that Brad needs a blood transfusion, but is dismayed to learn that Brad has AB negative blood, which is a rare type. Fortunately for Brad, Sebastian also has AB negative blood. Brad protests that he doesn’t want Sebastian’s blood, but Buttons ignores him. Brad continues to be determined to put on a show, in spite of everything that has happened. When he passes out, Holly takes up the charge, insisting that they will put on a show, no matter what they have to do. Holly frantically urges the men to round up anyone who is still able to perform and get them ready. Angel eventually joins the cause, saying she’ll gather all the elephants who can still walk. Holly charges Buttons with keeping Brad alive and says the rest of them will roll the show. Meanwhile, one of the baby gorillas flings money about as we see a shot of what appears to be Klaus’ dead body, crushed in the wreckage.

sebastian-angelThe performers put on a parade for the town, urging the townspeople to come out to the site of the wreck to see the show.


Buttons manages to save Brad’s life. Henderson shows up to gloat over the wreckage, telling Brad that he’s all washed up. The parade returns, with a hoard of townspeople, come to see the show, in tow. Henderson admits that Brad runs a good circus and tells him that he’ll wait for him to get back on his feet again, before he knocks him off them for good. The police officer shakes Buttons’ hand, before putting him in cuffs and hauling him off to jail.

the-greatest-show-on-earthBrad calls Holly over, who is still frantically trying to get the circus running. Brad tries to tell Holly that he loves her, but she is too busy barking orders to listen to him. As she rushes off to attend to the show, Brad declares that she has nothing but sawdust in her veins. Assuming Holly and Brad have reunited, Sebastian proposes to Angel and she accepts. Brad smiles as the show goes on. The film ends with a closing shot of the narrator urging the crowds to come again to see The Greatest Show on Earth.

The Greatest Show on Earth Commentary (Spoilers):

I’ve never been that big a fan of the circus and The Greatest Show on Earth has oft been cited as one of the worst films ever to win an Academy award, so I didn’t have high hopes going into it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. Sure, the whole romance plot was kind of silly and soap operaish. Some of the acting was a bit suspect and at times, the movie didn’t seem to have much plot at all.

However, I still found myself enjoying it. The creators’ love of the circus shines through all the overwrought drama. Some of the special effects are a bit ragged around the edges, but the train crash sequence is truly impressive and emotionally devastating.

I’m not sure if the whole uber “the show must go on” mentality was more inspiring than foolhardy, but I did enjoy Brad getting a taste of his own medicine at the end, when suddenly Holly was too concerned about keeping the show going to be bothered with Brad and his professions of undying love.

I’m not going to say this movie was necessairly a great example of filmmaking, but it was an entertaining watch and at the end of the day, that’s still worth something.

Gentleman’s Agreement – Best Picture Winners


The next movie I tackled on my list of Best Picture Winners is the 1947 Best Picture winner Gentleman’s Agreement.

Gentleman’s Agreement Plot Summary (Spoilers):

Gentleman’s Agreement begins with an eye in the sky view of New York, followed by a shot of a father and son walking through a park. The son asks the father, played by Gregory Peck, why they’ve always lived in California, instead of New York, since he likes it there. The father explains that he grew up in California and just kept on living there. The pair discuss the boy’s mother, who died when he was 4 and the boy asks his father if he thinks he’ll ever get married again. After dropping his son off with grandma at Sachs’, the man, whose name is Philip Schuyler Green, goes to meet with Mr. Minify, an editor at a national magazine called the Smith Weekly. Mr. Minify invites Mr. Green to dinner and then proceeds to tell him about his idea.

MeetcuteThe scene switches to a cab arriving at Mr. Minify’s diner party. He introduces Mr. Green to his niece, Kathy Lacey, who he points out has been divorced for a couple of years and claims she is a fan of Philip’s work. The pair chat and she asks Philip what he is currently working on and her uncle tells her that he has asked Philip to write a series on antisemitism. It turns out that Kathy was actually the person who originally suggested the piece.

Back at Philip’s apartment, he is having breakfast with his son and his mother. He tells his mother that his editor has asked him to do a series on antisemitism and she says he doesn’t sound very excited about it. He agrees, but says his editor isn’t forcing the subject on him. He also tells his mother about the girl he met at his editor’s diner party and says she was “funny.” His son Tommy asks what antisemitism is and Philip tries to explain it to him. After his son leaves, Philip elaborates to his mother why he is not enthusiastic about the antisemitism story. He fears that he won’t have anything new to say on the subject. His mother muses that while the subject has been spoken about a lot, maybe it’s never been spoken about well enough and that it would sure be nice if people no longer had to explain what antisemitism is to their children.

After taking a short walk to think about it, Philip tells his editor that he has decided to do the antisemitism story and that he’ll need some facts and figures from the research department. His editor objects, saying he didn’t bring Philip in to recite facts and figures. He wants him to humanize the story, so that people will read it. As Philip is leaving his office, Mr. Minify asks if he wants his niece’s phone number and Philip tells him he already has it, seeing as how they are having dinner that night.

AnglePhilip talks to Kathy and his mother about his struggles to find the right angle for his antisemitism article. He thinks of his childhood friend Dave Goldman and wishes he could talk to him about the subject and then excitedly tells his mother that maybe the answer is for him to try to get into Dave’s head and figure out how he, as a Jew, would feel about the subject of antisemitism. He sets out to write a letter to Dave to ask him about the Jewish experience, but then decides it isn’t a good idea. His mother tries to encourage him, telling him the subject may be difficult, but that it’s worth it. Philip falls asleep at his desk and wakes to discover his mother suffering chest pains. He calls a doctor for her.

The next morning, Tommy questions Philip about whether his grandmother is going to die. Philip tells him that everyone dies eventually, but that the doctor said his grandmother could be fine for a good long while, as long as she’s careful. The doctor tells Philip that his mother’s pain could be false angina and suggests he keep her in bed for a couple of days and then bring her into the office for tests.

Philip tells his mother that he has decided not to write the antisemitism series, because he feels like it’s a subject he just can’t tackle. He then recounts how he wrote his other stories by putting himself into the shoes of his subjects and it occurs to him that he could do the same thing with this story. He tells his mother that no one knows him in New York, so he could just tell people that he’s Jewish and write his series based on his own experiences, rather than interviewing other people or doing research. His mother agrees that it sounds like a good idea.

SmoochPhillip calls Kathy over to tell her about his plan for the article, but before he gets around to it, he makes out with her instead. Kathy stops him and he starts talking about the benefits of marriage. Kathy agrees, but says that once you’ve made a mistake, you’re afraid to make another. However, she seems to come around to the idea and the two kiss again.

Philip tells Mr. Minify about his plan to pretend to be Jewish and Mr. Minify is excited about it. He introduces Philip to some colleagues and tells them Phillip is working on a series about antisemitism. One of them tells Mr. Minify that he thinks the series is a bad idea. Mr Minify disagrees and so does Phillip and adds that he doesn’t think it has anything to do with the fact that he is Jewish himself.

Philip makes plans with his new secretary to begin his research by having her write two letters of application for various jobs, clubs, schools, etc. One letter he will sign Philip Greenberg and the other Schuyler Green. His secretary tells him that she changed her name from Wilovski to Wales after she did what he is proposing in real life. After Smith Weekly turned her down under her real name, she wrote another application, signed with the name Wales and got the job. She also tells him that word has already gotten around the office that Philip is Jewish.

Philip meets with his mother’s doctor again and tells him that his employer has recommended an internist, who happens to be a Jew, for his mother. The doctor suggests he should see someone else, even though Dr. Abrams is a good kid and not given to over-charging and dragging out appointments like some. When Phillip questions the doctor if he means like some doctors or like some Jewish doctors, he admits that any doctor might over-charge, but makes it clear he meant Jewish doctors.

Philip tells Kathy about his plan to pretend to be Jewish. She appears to be concerned that he might actually be Jewish, but tries to cover for herself by saying that it will mix people up and they won’t know what he is.  He tells her that she has to be sure not to give him away and that the only person who is in on it at Smith’s is Mr. Minify. She seems less than enthusiastic about the idea. Her reaction creates some tension between them and they have an awkward dinner together. However, they make up afterwards.

Mr. Minify confronts his hiring manager about the fact that they don’t have any employees with Jewish sounding names. He demands Mr. Jordan run an ad for a secretary that specifically states the job is open to any religion. He also warns him that if he should ever want to fire Ms. Wales for any reason, that he wants to review the case first. When Ms. Wales finds out about the ad, she expresses concern to Mr. Green that she will take the fall should any of the “kikey ones” apply for the job. Philip admonishes Ms. Wales for her antisemitic behaviour and tells her that he hates words like “kikey,” no matter who says them.

Kathy wants Philip to meet her family and that her sister is having a party. Kathy’s sister lives in a neighborhood that does not welcome Jews. Philip initially agrees to put aside the ruse that he is a Jew for her sister’s party, but later changes his mind, saying that the whole point was not to allow himself loopholes whenever being thought of us a Jew is inconvenient, but Kathy thinks he is being too serious about the whole thing and it will ruin her sister’s party if conflict is created over it. Kathy doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to upset people over thinking she is engaged to a Jewish man, when he isn’t really Jewish and says she wouldn’t have any fun because she’d be so tense about the whole thing. Philip doesn’t agree and the two part in anger.

FightPhilip’s friend Dave comes to stay with him after getting out of the service. They meet one of Philip’s colleagues for lunch and a man insults Dave and calls him a “Yid,” almost causing a fight. Philip gets a call from Kathy, who tells him that she is at her sister’s and she had it out with her about not wanting to tell people that Phillip is Jewish and she didn’t want to call him until she had fixed everything. She tells him the party is still on and asks him to take the train out to meet her. Philip is surprised that everyone is so nice to him at the party, but Kathy learns that her sister has basically screened out anyone who might have caused a problem, saying they cancelled at the last-minute.

Two days before their wedding, Kathy and Philip are hanging out with Dave and Philip’s colleague Anne. They discuss their honeymoon plans and Anne tells them that the hotel they plan to honeymoon at is restricted. Philip wants to fight back in some way, but Dave tells him that they’d just find some way to worm out of it. Tommy calls and tells Philip that his grandmother has had what Philip thinks sounds like a stroke.

Philip’s mother is out of immediate danger, but he and Kathy postpone their wedding. Dave breaks the news that he will not be there for the wedding, because he hasn’t been able to find a place to live and needs to return to his family. Philip decides that he is going to confront the hotel where they had planned to honeymoon about not allowing Jews to stay there. He explains that he feels like he has to take a stand somewhere.

HotelPhilip goes to check in at the hotel and asks the desk clerk if the hotel is restricted. The clerk goes to get his manager, who wants to know if Philip is Jewish, or if he just wants to “make sure.” Philip does not respond and demands an answer. The manager explains that they have very “high-class” clients and then tells Philip that in any case, there must have been some sort of mistake, because they don’t have a free room in the entire hotel. Philip loudly proclaims that he is Jewish and the hotel doesn’t accept Jews and he wants the manager to say so straight out, but the manager refuses to do so, telling Philip to either get in a cab and leave or accept his offer to book him a room elsewhere. When Philip does not take either option, the manager walks away and closes the door behind him.

Philip returns home, dejected about his experience at the hotel. He discusses renting Kathy’s empty cottage to Dave and she says that it wouldn’t work out, because it would be too uncomfortable for Dave to move into an antisemitic neighborhood. She mentions that even in her own neighborhood there’s a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to rent or sell your home to a Jew. The two of them argue about whether Kathy actually believes in his crusade to combat antisemitism, but they are interrupted by Tommy. Tommy tells his father that some kids called him a “dirty Jew” and a “stinkin Kike” and then bursts into tears. Kathy tries to comfort him, by telling him that he’s no more Jewish than she is and it’s just a horrible mistake. This makes Phillip angry.

Phillip takes his son aside and asks him if he wants to tell the kids who bullied him that he’s not really Jewish and Tommy says no. Phillip is pleased, saying that if Tommy did deny being a Jew, it might make it seem like there was something wrong with being Jewish.

Phillip returns to Kathy and she tells him that she’s tired of being wrong about everything Jewish and accuses him of secretly thinking she is an antisemite all along. Phillip denies it, but tells her that he’s come to realize there are lots of nice people who detest antisemitism and proclaim their own innocence who help it along and then wonder why it grows. Kathy goes on a rant about how “they” always create problems, even for their friends and Phillip points out that “they” had nothing to do with his taking on this series. Kathy tells Phillip it’s best they break off their engagement now, because she is tired of being judged and she thinks Philip will never understand that the fact that she is glad she is a Christian and not a Jew doesn’t make her a bad person and that she hates antisemitism as much as he does, even though she doesn’t want to do anything that might cause trouble for herself to fight it.

Dave and Anne return from their night on the town and wake Philip up. Philip tells Dave about Tommy’s run in with the kids down the street and Dave tells him now he can quit being a Jew, because having his kid insulted is the final part of the Jewish experience he needed to experience to understand it.

Philip hands over his article to his secretary to be typed and when she reads the title, “I was Jewish for 8 weeks,” she is shocked to discover that he is actually a Christian. Philip lectures her, saying her shock that anyone would give up the glory of being Christian for even 8 weeks is a form of antisemitism, because she views being Christian as superior to being Jewish. Philip tells his boss that he plans to move back to California after his article is complete. His boss expresses regret that Philip and Kathy broke up.

AnneAfter Anne confirms that Philip and Kathy split up, she invites Philip over for dinner. She criticizes Kathy for being a hypocrite, who makes noises about disapproving of antisemitism, but wants people like Philip to do all the fighting, while she and others like her stay on the sidelines doing nothing. She also makes it clear to Philip that she’s interested in replacing Kathy as his fiancée.

Kathy meets with Dave and asks him if he thinks she is antisemitic. He says that he doesn’t. Kathy wants to know why she can make it clear to everyone else that she hates antisemitism as much as Philip does, but not to Philip. Kathy tells Dave about a time when a man told an antisemitic joke and she wanted to call him out on it, but didn’t, though it made her feel sick. Dave points out that maybe she wouldn’t have felt so bad if she’d done something, instead of just letting it pass and that nice people who don’t laugh at antisemitic jokes, but just sit there and let them pass allow things like restricted hotels and the bullying of children to happen. He says that’s a lesson that Philip has learned. Kathy finally seems to get it and says that her unwillingness to fight is what made her a bad match for Philip. Dave tells Kathy that she can change if she wants to.

Philip returns home and his mother praises him for his article and says his father would have liked it. She tells him that she suddenly wishes she could live to be very old, because she wants to see what happens and she thinks that maybe this is finally the century when the world will change.

Dave returns and tells Philip that Kathy has agreed to rent her cottage to him and she plans to move in with her sister, so that she can deal with anyone who gives Dave’s family a hard time. Philip rushes out to Kathy’s apartment. She answers the door and the two gaze at each other and then embrace. The film ends.

Gentleman’s Agreement Commentary (Spoilers):

In some ways Gentleman’s Agreement feels like the Hollywood equivalent of a very special episode of your favorite 80’s sitcom. However, I think it does a generally good job of getting its message across, while also remaining an entertaining film.

In many ways, the antisemitism that was so rampant in the post WWII era, reminds me of the anti-Muslim sentiment that has become widespread in much of the United States since 9/11. It is no longer socially acceptable to voice antisemitic views in most circles of American culture, but it is becoming more and more acceptable to criticize Islam and Christians continue to assert their dominance by throwing fits about things like “the war on Christmas” and claiming they are being persecuted when people don’t specifically cater to them as much as they have in the past.

Unfortunately, even though it is much less socially acceptable in 2016, antisemitism has not disappeared and is even an issue in the current presidential election. In addition, other forms of prejudice have been in the news frequently in recent years. In 2016 alone there have been significant issues surrounding racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and other issues. While some progress has been made since 1947, it seems like there are a significant number of people who would like nothing better than to rollback much of that progress and we still have a long way to go.

One of the main focuses of the film is how people who claim to be against prejudice often harbor their own prejudices and allow prejudice to flourish, because of fear or unwillingness to give up the privileges being a member of the majority group provides. This is something I often struggle with myself.

As a woman, a lesbian, an atheist and a white person, I have been on both sides of the equation. I detest prejudice and try to recognize and fight any I see in my own way of thinking, but I am surrounded by people, many of them family members, who are very anti-anything that isn’t straight, white and Christian. I often find myself merely refusing to participate, rather than standing up and fighting when they get off on their rants, because I feel outnumbered and I don’t want to be constantly fighting. However, I recognize that I am able to do that, while others can not, because I have the privilege of being white and while my family doesn’t approve of my being a lesbian or an atheist, they mostly ignore it. Non-White people can’t stop being the color that they are and there are many homosexual people whose families won’t allow them to just ignore their disdain, so they can’t so easily reject prejudice, but abstain from the fighting as I can.

I think this is an area where they film falls down a bit. I’m sure pretending to be Jewish was an eye opener for Philip, but I don’t think you can truly understand the experience of something you are not, when you are free to walk away from it at any point. I think this is a factor that many people, even members of the LGBT community, overlook when they criticize those who are closeted for not coming out, now that “no one cares.” People do care, but more than that, once you’re out, you lose that illusion of being able to step away from the identity whenever you want.

While I think Philip was being a little high-horsey in scolding an actual Jew for not living up to his standards, when he had the luxury of going back to being a Christian any time he wanted to, I have also experienced prejudice against my community within my own community. There are members of the LGBT community who have great disdain for those they consider to be too “in your face” with their homosexuality/gender identity. They accuse them of making things harder for the rest of the community, in much the same way that Ms. Wales talks about the “Kikey” Jews messing things up for the rest of them.

In the end Kathy seems to come around to Philip’s point of view and that’s a good thing, but I was kind of rooting for Anne. I thought she was more interesting and seemed to have much better chemistry with Philip than Kathy.

I enjoyed the film and I hope it and other films of its like can make some progress towards convincing people to examine their own prejudices and take a stand against the prejudices of others, even when they don’t have any skin the game.

Annie Hall – 100 Best Movies


The next movie I tackled on my list of 100 Best Movies is Annie Hall. Annie Hall was also the Best Picture winner at the 1977 Academy Awards, so this movie is the second I’ve ticked off my Best Picture Winners list.

Annie Hall Plot Summary (Spoilers):

Annie Hall begins with Woody Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, telling some jokes and relating those jokes to his life and his relationships with women. He tells the camera that he broke up with Annie about a year ago and he still can’t figure out where things went wrong.

Alvy's HomeHe then talks about his childhood and we seem some key moments from his childhood years via flashback, demonstrating why he thinks he has become something of a neurotic person. He also reveals that he became a famous comic.

The flashbacks shift to his relationship with Annie, played by Diane Keaton. Annie and Alvy have a discussion about how infrequently they have been having sex of late, while waiting in line to see The Sorrow and the Pity and then that night, Alvy wants to have sex, but Annie isn’t in to it.

AllisonAnnie tells Alvy that he knows how it is some times, seeing as how he’s been married before and he flashes back to his relationship with his first wife, Allison, played by Carol Kane. Allison wants to have sex, but Alvy is too pre-occupied with conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination. When Allison accuses Alvy of using the JFK conspiracy theories as an excuse to avoid having sex with her, Alvy admits to the camera that she was right and wonders why that is.

With his second wife, friction results from his skipping out of one of her social events to watch the Knicks on TV. His wife questions what could possibly be so interesting about basketball and Alvy says that it’s physical, which is far superior to the intellectual exploits of his wife’s friends. He tries to talk her into having sex with him and she accuses him of using sex to express hostility.

Back with Annie, Alvy is still having problems in the boudoir. This time Annie is complaining about noisy sirens stressing her out and saying she needs to get out of the city, however Alvy protests that the countryside makes him nervous.

FlirtationHe flashes back to earlier in their relationship and their awkward first meeting at a tennis match. Annie gives Alvy a ride home and the two neurotically flirt and then later Alvy goes to see Annie sing at a club. Later that evening they have sex and it seems to go much better than their more recent attempts.

He continues to flashback through the couple’s happy times, enjoying the city and chatting and having great sex. Eventually, they profess their love to each other and then Annie moves in with Alvy, though he doesn’t think she should give up her own apartment, which makes her think Alvy doesn’t want her to move in. They fight about it and Annie says that she thinks Alvy doesn’t think she’s smart enough for him, though he denies it.

The couple’s troubles continue to increase, as they argue over Annie’s pot smoking and Annie seems to begin to lose her enthusiasm for their sex life.

JewAlvy meets Annie’s family. Her grandmother doesn’t seem to like him at all and her parents seem fairly lukewarm. Her brother, played by Christopher Walken, tells Alvy that sometimes when he’s driving at night and he sees an oncoming car, he thinks about turning the wheel into oncoming traffic. Her brother later drives them to the airport, while Alvy looks on nervously.

The scene shifts to Alvy and Annie arguing about his paranoia. He has been spying on her, because he thinks she is seeing another man. She denies the affair, and points out that Alvy is the one who never wanted to make a commitment. She again accuses him of thinking she isn’t smart enough. Annie tells Alvy that she is seeing an analyst now and that she suggested the dream Annie had about being suffocated was about Alvy.

The couple continues to argue about Alvy following Annie around, because he thinks she is having an affair with her professor. Annie threatens to call it quits.

Alvy's DateAlvy’s friend talks him into seeing another woman. Alvy doesn’t seem to enjoy his date that much, but he sleeps with her anyway. He gets a call in the middle of the night from Annie, saying she has an emergency. He rushes over, only to find the emergency is a spider in the bathroom.

Alvy kills the spider and emerges from the bathroom to find Annie crying. She asks him not to go and asks if he was with another woman when she called. He stays and they have sex. They seem happy and make plans to spend the weekend together.

They enjoy their weekend trip to Alvy’s old neighborhood and continue to have happy times for a while. It doesn’t last. Both of them complain to their analysts about their relationship and Annie says the weekend in Brooklyn was the last happy time they had together. Alvy complains that he’s paying for Annie’s analysis and she’s making progress and he’s not. Annie says she feels obligated to have sex with Alvy even when she doesn’t want to, because he is paying for her analysis. Annie muses that maybe she should just live with a woman instead.

Breakup PlaneAnnie and Alvy visit California. On the plane ride back, Annie thinks to herself that while she adores Alvy, their relationship doesn’t seem to be working. Alvy thinks he’ll probably have the usual trouble in bed with her that night and he wants to ask her to move out, but is afraid she’ll be crushed. They agree on the plane that it is time for the relationship to end. It doesn’t take Alvy long to regret breaking up with Annie, but she has moved to California to be with another man.

Alvy tries dating someone else, but it doesn’t work out. He calls Annie and tells her he wants her to come back and then flies out to California to get her. They meet at a restaurant and Alvy tells Annie he thinks they should get married, but Annie is happy with her life in L.A. Annie tells Alvy that he is incapable of enjoying life. Annie tells Alvy that she just wants to be friends and she has no plans to return to N.Y. and the two part. Alvy, who isn’t used to driving, crashes into several cars trying to back out of the parking lot. Alvy refuses to cooperate with the cop who is called out to the accident he causes and ends up in jail. His friend who lives in L.A. bails him out.

AlvyAlvy writes a play about his relationship with Annie, but changes the ending, having her move back to N.Y. with him. He tells the camera that Annie later moved back to Manhattan and they had lunch together and talked about old times. He seems to have come to terms with their breakup and says that Annie is a great person. The film concludes with Alvy calling relationships irrational and absurd, but something we all keep going through because we need them.

Annie Hall Commentary (Spoilers):

This was my first Woody Allen film. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it, but I did. While I find Allen to be a creep in real life, I have to admit that he does have a sort of neurotic charm on-screen. While the movie wasn’t one that was laugh out loud funny, it did have its amsuing points and there was something about it that was just plain enjoyable to watch.

Diane Keaton’s performance was also very engaging. The film is an interesting commentary on the nature of relationships and the differences in the way different people view the same events.

Best Picture Winners – Watch them All

For this bucket list item, I want to watch all of the films that have won the “best picture” award at the Academy Awards (Oscars).

This is similar to the 100 best movies item, and i’m sure there will be some crossover between the lists, but not every Oscar winner made the top 100 and vice versa.

Best Picture Oscar winners up to 2013:

  1. 1927/1928 – “Wings”
  2. 1928/1929 – “The Broadway Melody”
  3. 1929/1930 – “All Quiet on the Western Front”
  4. 1930/1931 – “Cimarron”
  5. 1931/1932 – “Grand Hotel”
  6. 1932/1933 – “Cavalcade”
  7. 1934 – “It Happened One Night”
  8. 1935 – “Mutiny on the Bounty”
  9. 1936 – “The Great Ziegfeld”
  10. 1937 – “The Life of Emile Zola”
  11. 1938 – “You Can’t Take It with You”
  12. 1939 – “Gone with the Wind”
  13. 1940 – “Rebecca”
  14. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley”
  15. 1942 – “Mrs. Miniver”
  16. 1943 – “Casablanca”
  17. 1944 – “Going My Way”
  18. 1945 – “The Lost Weekend”
  19. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives”
  20. 1947 – “Gentleman’s Agreement”
  21. 1948 – “Hamlet”
  22. 1949 – “All the Kings Men”
  23. 1950 – “All About Eve”
  24. 1951 – “An American in Paris”
  25. 1952 – “The Greatest Show on Earth”
  26. 1953 – “From Here to Eternity”
  27. 1954 – “On the Waterfront
  28. 1955 – “Marty”
  29. 1956 – “Around the World in 80 Days”
  30. 1957 – “The Bridge on the River Kwai”
  31. 1958 – “Gigi”
  32. 1959 – “Ben-Hur”
  33. 1960 – “The Apartment”
  34. 1961 – “West Side Story”
  35. 1962 – “Lawrence of Arabia”
  36. 1963 – “Tom Jones”
  37. 1964 – “My Fair Lady”
  38. 1965 – “The Sound of Music”
  39. 1966 – “A Man for All Seasons”
  40. 1967 – “In the Heat of the Night”
  41. 1968 – “Oliver!”
  42. 1969 – “Midnight Cowboy”
  43. 1970 – “Patton”
  44. 1971 – “The French Connection”
  45. 1972 – “The Godfather”
  46. 1973 – “The Sting”
  47. 1974 – “The Godfather Part II”
  48. 1975 – “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
  49. 1976 – “Rocky”
  50. 1977 – “Annie Hall”
  51. 1978 – “The Deer Hunter”
  52. 1979 – “Kramer vs. Kramer”
  53. 1980 – “Ordinary People”
  54. 1981 – “Chariots of Fire”
  55. 1982 – “Gandhi”
  56. 1983 – “Terms of Endearment”
  57. 1984 – “Amadeus”
  58. 1985 – “Out of Africa”
  59. 1986 – “Platoon”
  60. 1987 – “The Last Emperor”
  61. 1988 – “Rain Man”
  62. 1989 – “Driving Miss Daisy”
  63. 1990 – “Dances With Wolves”
  64. 1991 – “The Silence of the Lambs”
  65. 1992 – “Unforgiven”
  66. 1993 – “Schindler’s List”
  67. 1994 – “Forrest Gump”
  68. 1995 – “Braveheart”
  69. 1996 – “The English Patient”
  70. 1997 – “Titanic”
  71. 1998 – “Shakespeare in Love”
  72. 1999 – “American Beauty”
  73. 2000 – “Gladiator”
  74. 2001 – “A Beautiful Mind”
  75. 2002 – “Chicago”
  76. 2003 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
  77. 2004 – “Million Dollar Baby”
  78. 2005 – “Crash”
  79. 2006 – “The Departed”
  80. 2007 – “No Country for Old Men”
  81. 2008 – “Slumdog Millionaire”
  82. 2009 – “The Hurt Locker”
  83. 2010 – “The King’s Speech”
  84. 2011 – “The Artist”
  85. 2012 – “Argo”
  86. 2013 – “12 Years a Slave”

I will update the blog as I cross films off the list.