The pacifist attitude of a Quaker family is tested as a result of the American Civil War.The pacifist attitude of a Quaker family is tested as a result of the American Civil War.The pacifist attitude of a Quaker family is tested as a result of the American Civil War.
Gary Cooper by now had a whole lot of career roles, but this one as Jess Birdwell, Quaker farmer in Southern Indiana during the Civil War was probably his last really great performance. But for Dorothy McGuire this was her career role. She and Cooper work so well together that you think you are prying in on the family of Eliza and Jess Birdwell.
The film is based on a novel by Jessamyn West and it's about the effects of the Civil War on the Birdwell family, the parents and the children, Anthony Perkins, Phyllis Love, and Richard Eyer. The tenets of pacifism are not easy to follow, especially during time of war. And we're not talking about war overseas. But war just the other side of the Ohio River where Confederates do cross occasionally for raiding.
Each of the Birdwells feel differently about the war, including hired hand Joel Fluellen who's a runaway slave. He's got real reason to fear raiding Confederates. Phyllis Love is in love with Peter Mark Richman who's a non-Quaker friend of the family and he's gone off to war. And Anthony Perkins feels it his duty to defend what they've earned and sweat for.
Perkins got an Oscar nomination for his role. It's a telling portrayal of the angst of youth brought up in a pacifist house. Perkins is a truly torn individual.
Years ago I met Anthony Perkins at a science fiction convention in NYC. The poor man looked nervous and ill at ease in those surroundings. He was there because of the Psycho films and the role of Norman Bates with which he had become so identified with. I have to say he looked grateful that someone asked him about Friendly Persuasion. He said he admired both Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire as thorough going professionals and it was a pleasure to be working with them and William Wyler and associated with Friendly Persuasion.
In some of the lighter moments of Friendly Persuasion before the war hits home, Cooper and Perkins go on a trip to sell some of their farm produce. They stop at widow Marjorie Main's house with her three eligible daughters who haven't seen a male face in ages. In a more liberal age it would have been quite explicit what daughter Edna Skinner does to Perkins. Cooper knows though, you can see it in his face as to what's coming.
Friendly Persuasion's popularity was helped a great deal by Pat Boone's record of the title song which was a Gold record for him. But a really great version was done by Bing Crosby for the Longines Symphony in the Sixties. It was nominated for Best Song, but lost to Doris Day's Que Sera Sera.
One of Gary Cooper's best screen moments ever is the death scene with his friend Robert Middleton. Middleton who is also Peter Mark Richman's father is Cooper's best friend and friendly rival every Sunday before church for him and Quaker Meeting for Gary. They have a friendly horse race on the way. Cooper finds Middleton shot and dying from a Confederate soldier. Middleton and Cooper both are superb and I guarantee not a dry eye was in any movie house when this was first released. It's followed by a scene where Cooper disarms the Confederate who killed Middleton and let him go. His Quaker faith kicked right in.
Dorothy McGuire in the meantime forcibly hosts a rebel patrol who confiscate the Bidwell stores. They're about to confiscate the pet goose Samantha for dinner when she whacks the offender with a broom. The goose gets a pardon. She stood up and fought for what she loved even if it was a family pet. It's one of her best screen moments.
William Wyler took some southern California landscape and did a marvelous job in recreating Indiana of 1862. He brought home a winner in every way for Allied Artists.
And Friendly Persuasion will pleasure thee in a hundred ways.
- Aug 22, 2006