movie review: friendly persuasion

The patriarch of a peace-loving Quaker family, Jess Birdwell (Gary Cooper), begins to question his pacifist values when the Civil War moves toward his close-knit Indiana community. Meanwhile, Jess’s daughter, Mattie, is in love with a soldier, and her brother, Josh (Anthony Perkins), contemplates picking up arms to defend his home lest he be considered a coward. As Confederate forces draw nearer, the Birdwells must make some difficult, life-altering decisions.


My grandparents really (REALLY) like this movie and they’ve watched it every year, for as long as I remember, and I’ve seen bits and pieces of it over those years, but never the whole thing from start to finish. From the parts I saw, it didn’t really look like my kind of movie. Sweet, funny, heart-warming, etc., etc. Because, you know, I like deep, depressing movies like Les Miserables or Unbroken or The Purple Heart. I like to think, really think about the movies I watch. I mean, yes, I adore State Fair, but that’s the rare exception. At least I thought so until about a week ago when I finally sat down and watched Friendly Persuasion from the opening credits to ‘The End’.  And then there were two exceptions.

I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

Even with all the funny scenes (and, truth be told, I didn’t mind those one bit), there’s quite a bit of depth to this movie, with the Civil War and all. Though I was surprised that they didn’t explore more of Mattie’s romantic relationship with a non-Quaker – that would have been interesting and realistic. Anyway. There were several parts throughout Friendly Persuasion that I really liked. The fair is probably my favorite scene (or, series of scenes) with the freak shows and dancing and organs. I love fairs in general, and I enjoyed this one very much. The Hudspeth episode was great, too. I’ve heard “Marry Me” being sung around my house for ages, and pretty much nothing can beat that scene for comedic value. But, not surprisingly, it was when the film took a serious turn that I got really hooked. Josh’s moral dilemma, Jess charging off to find him, the Rebels raiding the farm…and so on. Excellent stuff, and it showed that all the actors and actresses could do serious just as well as they did funny.

Pretty much the only part of Friendly Persuasion that I didn’t really care for was the whole horse racing subplot. I know a lot of people like it and find it hilarious, and I get why, but it just seemed a bit boring/out of place to me. I don’t know why, exactly. It just did.

There wasn’t a character I didn’t like. Gary Cooper is a great actor and I like him well enough despite having seen him in only one other film (High Noon), and Dorothy MacGuire always does a good acting job whenever I see her in a movie. The two of them together had some lovely married couple chemistry – I always like stories that include (or focus on) a married couple, because it’s quite unique. Little Jess and Mattie were good, and all the minor characters like Sam and Enoch and the organ dealer made their own impressions. However, Gard was something of a different story…I liked the character well enough, but after seeing Mark Richman in two different episodes of Combat! (playing a despicable villain in both), I can’t warm up to him as an actor. Plus, I thought he was too old for Mattie, so that didn’t help either.

The real stand-out of this film, in terms of the cast, was Anthony Perkins, who received an Oscar nomination for the role of Joshua. I was a bit leery about seeing him in a role, because his crazed serial killer reputation proceeded him, but I was pleasantly surprised. He did a great job portraying Josh’s inward struggle – to fight or not to fight? – and his relationship with his parents (and Little Jess). (Plus, he’s rather attractive, which certainly didn’t hurt my opinion of him.) I do wish there’d been perhaps one scene between the one where Jess comes and gets Josh and the final scene, because the change of mood is a bit jarring, and I don’t think Josh would recover that easily (emotion-wise, I mean). That being said, I still really enjoyed Anthony Perkins’ performance and I hope to see him in other films (just not Psycho).

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Overall, I’d say Friendly Persuasion is well worth your (or anyone’s) time. It’s got enough of just about everything to satisfy anybody: humour, drama, romance, war, familial themes, wonderful characters, and lovely music. Highly recommended.



9 thoughts on “movie review: friendly persuasion

  1. Ekaterina

    I love Friendly Persuasion! It is rather funny compared to most Civil War movies. I always laugh at the part where Anthony Perkins was surrounded by those three girls. I felt so bad for him, yet I couldn’t stop laughing at the torment they were putting him through.
    This is such a good movie and not depressingly sad like a certain movie I’ve just finished (“The Alamo” sobs quietly).


  2. Hi. I was trying to contact you back in June regarding a blogathon that I was hosting last week dedicated to the Barrymore family, but was having problems commenting. Anyhow, I’m holding a new blogathon and I wanted to at least invite you to participate. The link is below with more details


    1. While I’d love to participate in a blogathon like this (and I feel honoured that you invited me), I’ve never seen any Lauren Bacall films, so I think I’ll have to pass. 😦 Sorry.


  3. jessica prescott

    That does sound fun! I wonder if it’s on YouTube at all?
    Speaking of movies–I just watched “Amazing Grace” yesterday for the first time and it completely blew me away. I mean, it was AWESOME. Have you ever seen it? If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it–I think it’d definitely be your sort of thing 🙂 It’s really deep and kind of sad, but tremendously inspiring at the same time.


  4. I always feel so sad for Anthony Perkins, because he was a fine actor, but after Psycho all anyone could see him as was a crazy killer. I mean, look at the poster you posted! It’s very militant about how it’s a happy film even though it has the star of Psycho in it. (Psycho is brilliant, but really quite scary, and I don’t recommend it to you. Watch Perkins in Tin Star instead, he’s sweet in that.)

    Anyway, this is a fun movie — one of Cowboy’s family’s favorites, though I’ve only seen it twice so far myself.


    1. Yes, I noticed that on the poster – it’s a shame he had to go through most of his life being defined by such a crazy character. (Though I’m wondering why ‘the star of Psycho’ is even on that poster, because it looks like an official release poster and didn’t FP come out before Psycho?) Mom says the same thing, and I don’t really have any wish to see it. Normally, I don’t mind too much if a favorite actor or actress plays a villainous role, but I’d much rather not have Norman Bates in my head whenever I see Anthony Perkins in something. 🙂 I did watch The Tin Star a few days ago! Really enjoyed it, and now I’m waiting for the right time to show Elisabeth. 🙂


      1. Very likely it was rereleased to the theater at some point, after Psycho.

        I figured you’d get to Tin Star at some point! It’s one of those Henry Fonda movies I do really like a lot. In fact, the first time I saw The Ox-Bow Incident, I watched Tin Star a couple of times to make me not hate HF anymore, lol.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s