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FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956)

Set in 1862 Indiana, a Quaker family faces small and large challenges and temptations from the outside world, which conflict with their traditional Quaker life style and values. Besides struggling with forbidden fruit such as organs, dancing, wrestling, horse racing, and gambling; the Civil War is about to drop into their front yard, when Confederate soldiers threaten to ride through the farmland country, looting and burning.

The cast includes: Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, Phyllis Love, Peter Mark Richman, Walter Catlett, Marjorie Main, and Theodore Newton.

FRIENDLY PERSUASION was nominated for the Best Picture award.

Screenplay by: Michael Wilson, based on the novel by Jessamyn West.

Directed by: William Wyler.

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Synopsis:

Friendly Persuasion tells the story of various members of a Quaker family, the Birdwells, in 1862 Indiana, as they face small and large challenges and temptations from the outside world, which conflict with their traditional Quaker life style and values. Besides struggling with forbidden fruit such as organs, dancing, wrestling, horse racing and gambling, and annoyances like a nasty goose, the Civil War is about to drop into their front yard, when Confederate soldiers threaten to ride through the farmland country, looting and burning. Are they going to join the union soldiers and country people to fight the enemy, or will they stick to their peace-oriented values and think of a better way to handle things?

Quote from Jesse, concerning Josh's disturbing choice: "I'm just his father, Eliza, not his conscience. A man's life ain't worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience."

FRIENDLY PERSUASION is one of the true gems of the cinema -- a warm and loving film that truly lives up to the promises of the ads: "It Will Pleasure You In A 100 Ways!".

Review:

The Birdwell Quaker Family, Jess (Gary Cooper), Eliza (Dorthy McGuire), 18 year old son, Josh (Anthony Perkins), teen daughter, Mattie (Phyllis Love) and little 12 year old Jess (Richard Eyer) live on their farm, in a southern Indiana rural community in 1862. Eliza, being the pastor of the local Quaker meeting house, is the spiritual glue which holds her family together in their faith, despite their diversions into areas which conflict with the Quaker life style. Though people of any faith have their temptations and struggles while trying to follow their faith-based life style, Eliza has her hands full with them all, as she does her best to keep them walking the talk of the Quaker way of life.

There are several intertwining stories about the various characters within the main storyline, which weave together, and merge by the end of the film, all which creates a poignant, humorous classic tale, that explores family dynamics within a Quaker family and their relationships to other Quakers and the outside world. The romance between the Methodist neighbor's son, Gard Jordan and young Mattie, Josh's inner struggle and confusion about the difference between cowardice and standing by a pacifist outlook, Jess's interest in horses and music and little Jess's difficulties with the nasty family pet, Samantha, are all situations that need to be worked out in the life of this family.

Finally, the reality of the Civil War proves to be the biggest problem to be handled, which they do with courage, aplomb, love and support. Through it all, they change and grow to be in a new place, stronger in their beliefs and at peace to handle their lives.

With the exceptions of the horse racing, the family's various temptations away from their faith are further developed in a series of scenes which take place at the county fair, despite Eliza's plans to steer her family to various activities and areas of interest which are appropriate for Quakers. Josh was to check out the rock exhibit, Mattie and little Jesse were to go shopping with Eliza, beginning with the quilting exhibit, and Jess was to explore the farming displays.

The best laid plans of mice and Quaker pastors often go astray. When little Jessie gives his mother the slip, he finds himself in an eye -level seat to a shell game of where is the pea? Mattie goes dancing with Sam Jordan's dreamy son, Gard (Peter Mark Richman), and Josh is drawn to the wrestling matches, and winds up dumping a mean, sore loser in a rain barrel, after being accused of being a coward; not exactly stellar behavior for a Quaker!

Jesse meanwhile, finds himself drawn to a musical instrument display and is convinced to buy an organ, by salesman Professor Waldo Quigley (Walter Catlett), which leads to some problems with his wife, Eliza, and a few squirmy moments. A favorite scene is when the Quaker Elders come to meet with Eliza, with the organ in the attic. Jesse becomes quite loquacious and loud in this group's prayer time, to cover the organ's notes being played by the unaware Mattie, showing Gard their new purchase!

Another favorite sequence of scenes are the ones revolving around Jess's interest in winning a horse race over his smug neighbor and dear friend, Sam. This means that Jesse needed to have a trotting horse that will win the weekly, unofficial Sunday race to church he has with his Methodist neighbor, Sam Jordan (Robert Middleton). Jesse's horse, Red, is a beautiful trotting horse, but lets Sam Jordan's horse pass him every time, which leaves the Birdwell family eating Jordan's buggy dust. Jesse pretends not to have this weekly race, to fool Eliza, but the audience knows better.

When Jess and Josh go on their yearly trip to sell seedlings and fruit trees, Jess succumbs to this desire by trading Red for a mare that won't be passed, much to the relief of the Widow Hudspeth (Marjorie Main), who now has hope to find husbands for her aggressive daughters, hungry for male companionship, which poor Josh experiences.

The most serious problem facing this family is the coming raid of confederate soldiers, who were sweeping through southern Indiana (known historically as Morgan's Raid), who were raiding, looting and burning farms along the way.

The call was made for men to defend the community. Josh struggles with the thought that maybe he is a coward, afraid to fight, confusing his pacifist Quaker upbringing with being someone who lacks courage. When the Confederate raiders close in on their community, Josh breaks with his religious faith and joins the defending militia, much to the distress of his parents.

While Josh goes down to the river crossing with the other defenders, Jess and Eliza come up with a plan which spares their farm from being burned, though it is scary and difficult. After the battle by the river, which the audience experiences with young Josh, Jesse goes down to pick up the pieces and take his traumatized son home.

On the way down to the river, Jesse is tempted himself to harm the bushwacker who killed someone dear to him, but he hangs onto his faith and follows through on his Quaker beliefs, which results in a life-changing experience for the bushwacker. This was a very powerful, poignant sequence of scenes.

Friendly Persuasion is a family classic because of its wonderful poignant and humorous screenplay, its insightful direction,dynamite performances by its cast, and inspiring cinematography /music. It earned 6 Academy award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Song and won for Best Actress. It holds up very well, even by 2003 standards.

This wonderfully entertaining screenplay was originally written first draft by Michael Wilson. However, he was black-balled in the 1950's because of McCarthy's communist witch hunt. So, both Jessamyn West and Robert Wyler stepped up to the plate and worked hard on the development and dialogue of the script, that was finally made into the final version. However, Michael Wilson, later petitioned to be given credit for the script, and was given the writing credit by Hollywood authorities. However, many believe that the credits for the screenplay probably should read: "Screenplay by Jessamyn West and Robert Wyler with addition material by Michael Wilson. ("90% of dialogue written by Jessamyn West and Robert Wyler" - William Wyler.)

The legendary William Wyler did a masterful job at directing and producing this well-loved classic film, earning his Best Director nomination. During his impressive career as a director and producer, he was nominated for Best Director 12 times and won Oscars for BEN HUR, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and MRS. MINIVER. In 1966, he was given Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Three of his films won Best Picture, and ten of his other films were nominated. Also, during his long, successful career, 36 of his actors and actresses, whom he directed were nominated or won Oscars for their performances.

Dorthy McGuire truly deserved her Best Actress Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of Eliza Birdwell, Quaker wife and mother, and Quaker pastor at the same time. Deemed "one of her best mother parts," probably because Dorthy had a meaty role with which to work with, which allowed her talent to shine through beautifully, under the direction of Wyler. Wyler gave his cast room to apply their skills and ability to their roles, without micro-managing them and giving them many takes to do so.

Gary Cooper is at his best in his portrayal of Quaker Jess Birdwell, an every day, common sense man who loves his family, loves his wife and holds onto the Quaker faith to see them all through difficult times ahead, though he bends the rules once or twice, throughout the storyline, adding fine moments of comedy.

Anthony Perkins, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, gives a fine performance as the eldest son, Josh, a serious young man struggling with who he is and the meaning of his Quaker faith in the face of war. Is he a committed Quaker who believes in peaceful solutions, or is he a coward, afraid of fighting, as others in the outside community insist?

The rest of the cast provides convincing supporting performances which add much to the ensemble efforts to bring the whole story to life.

Music master, Dimitri Tiomkin, a composer with a long, honored career (15 nominations and 3 Oscars) of creating film musical scores, doesn't disappoint with his original musical score which adds so much to the story. The main theme song, "Thee I love," and variations of this lovely melody gives the storyline fine support.

While Friendly Persuasion is unrated, this reviewer would give it a PG. It is a wonderful film for family entertainment. Real sensitive children may get upset during the fighting scenes at the river, and the scene where Jess finds a bushwacker who had just killed someone dear to him.

If you enjoyed FRIENDLY PERSUASION you may like SHENANDOAH, SHANE, FORREST GUMP, THE PATRIOT, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, LITTLE WOMEN, OUR TOWN, and GIANT.