I had a bad day the day I watched this movie. I hadn’t felt well all day at work, but I didn’t feel bad enough to take time off. About five minutes after I got home from work, I was violently ill. It lasted about half an hour. I was feeling sick and weak when I put Friendly Persuasion in the DVD player. But the moment the opening notes of the theme song started, I felt much better. Watching this movie is like being wrapped in a giant puffy quilt or getting a hug from someone you love. That may be because I was raised on this movie, but I like to think that the sweetness of this movie could make anyone’s day better.
So what’s the story? Jess and Eliza Birdwell are Quakers living in southern Indiana during the Civil War. Their older son, Joshua, is old enough to fight in the war, but the family’s pacifist beliefs keep him from joining up. Their daughter, Martha, is in love with their Methodist neighbor, who is a soldier. And their younger son, Little Jess, is in constant battle with Samantha the Goose. The family tries to simply go about their lives, but the war is about to come to them, forcing them all to make decisions of faith and love and conscience.
The Good: The cast is perfect. Jess is played by Gary Cooper, who makes Jess a slightly mischievous man who believes in his religion, but sometimes struggles to live up to the standards it sets for him. Dorothy McGuire plays Eliza, the Quaker minister who sometimes has to fight to keep her family on the straight and narrow. Anthony Perkins (yes, the same Anthony Perkins who is in Psycho) plays Josh, whose conscience tells him that fighting is a sin, but that his family is worth fighting for. Phyllis Love plays the lovesick Mattie almost uncomfortably perfectly. Robert Middleton plays family friend Sam Jordan with humor and love. Everyone is just good.
Okay, this is a weird thing, but I was struck as I watched Friendly Persuasion this time by the goose. Or possibly geese? I’m not sure how one goes about training a goose. I can’t imagine that it’s easy. But that goose does all sorts of things. Even if it’s many geese all doing one trick, it would have taken lots of work. So hats off to the animal trainers for this movie!
I love the music for this movie. Pat Boone sings the theme song, and it’s beautiful. It reflects the mood of the movie: slow, yet loving. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is also good, reinforcing the love and joy found in the Birdwells’ home life.
And speaking of the home life, I love that this family is a family. The children sometimes tease each other. They sometimes fight. The father defers to his wife, but he sometimes teases her and sometimes gangs up with his kids to get her to relax. The writers made the characters real people with faults and virtues. I love that.
The Bad: The plot isn’t perfectly linear. It meanders a bit. There are some scenes that add to the characterization of the people, but don’t necessarily add to the overarching Civil War plot. I’m okay with this in this movie because all these scenes are so delightful, but that also might be because I’ve loved Friendly Persuasion for a long time. Other people might not be so forgiving.
As Quakers, the Birdwells use speech that is a little bit different. They use “thee” and “thy” instead of “you” and “yours”. But to my German-speaking ear, they don’t use them quite correctly. This is apparently accurate for the Quakers, but it bothered me a little bit. It took me about a quarter of the movie to be okay with it.
The Ugly: I don’t think there is anything ugly about Friendly Persuasion, unless you object to a feel-good movie about a family trying to live according to their consciences.
Oscars Won: None
Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a supporting role (Anthony Perkins); best director; best writing, best screenplay – adapted; best sound, recording; best music, original song (“Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love)”).