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).
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.