Tolerance and antisemitism: Reflections of post-war America in the films "Crossfire" (1947), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) and "Oliver Twist" (1948)
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis explores conscious liberal tolerance attitudes in America after World War II. Its specific focus is antisemitism, and it utilizes Hollywood films Crossfire (1947), Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and the British Oliver Twist (1948) as the context for analysis. The origins of classical antisemitism are examined, as well as the history of antisemitism in England and America. American societal attitudes towards Jews are discussed and depictions of Jews in American films until 1947 are presented. The story and dialogue of each film is introduced, followed by the filmmakers' rationale for championing their films. Prerelease objections and concerns are addressed, and post-war public opinions about tolerance attitudes and antisemitism, revealed through scientific testing, are presented, juxtaposed to the reality of Americans' social practices. Post-release results reveal that public opinion supported the wartime-into-peacetime message of unity and tolerance for all Americans, including Jews, but social practices did not mirror these opinions. Discrimination against Jews could be found in employment practices, restrictive housing covenants, entrance to colleges and medical schools, and restricted clubs and vacation resorts. Crossfire verified that baseless hatred of Jews still existed. Gentleman's Agreement boldly exposed social bigotry across the societal spectrum, promoting the wartime unity message that prejudice and intolerance are blatantly un-American. Oliver Twist validated the difference between American and British post-war attitudes toward Jews, confirming historical differences about endemic antisemitism. It also revealed the conflict between upholding the First Amendment and fighting bigotry. The year 1947 proved to be a watershed year for American confrontation with enduring antisemitic attitudes, and for expression of conscious liberal attitudes engendered by the war. However, at precisely the same time, the House Un-American Activities Committee was actively engaged in ferreting out the "Jewish subversives" in Hollywood, convinced of the age-old anti-Jewish stereotype of a secret parliament of Jews, whose express purpose was the domination of the world. Alec Guinness' antisemitic portrayal of Fagin, and director David Lean's failure to understand the historical context in which he was working, verify the existence of unconscious antisemitic attitudes in Britain, despite the historical reality of the Holocaust. The historical conclusion is that malignant, atavistic antisemitism lived on, in spite of post-war American tolerance attitudes and Hollywood's valiant attempts to promote the conscious liberal philosophy.
Paley, Susan Rips, "Tolerance and antisemitism: Reflections of post-war America in the films "Crossfire" (1947), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) and "Oliver Twist" (1948)" (1998). Student Work. 450.
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A Thesis Presented to the Department of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1998, Susan Rips Paley