I'd like to spank the Academy

friendly-persuasion-movie-poster-1956-1020505962Directed by William Wyler

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)”).

Comments on: "Friendly Persuasion (1956)" (3)

  1. This movie convinced me that geese are Satan’s ducks.

    Did you pick 1956 just because you wanted to watch this happy comfort movie? (Wait… If I’m thinking correctly, this year has THREE of my own comfort movies. I am so exited to read your official thoughts on the upcoming Yul Brynner-fest.)

    Also, most Quakers don’t use the thee/thine/thy anymore. So while it’s accurate to Quakers of the era, it’s not accurate to modern Quakers. (Just wanted to put that out there? Not sure why I felt it was important enough to comment on.)

    I really love this movie’s analysis of religious belief and personal conscience and trying to figure out right vs. wrong. It’s so respectful of everyone’s decisions, because you can tell that all our protagonists are just trying to do what they think is best out of love for their fellow man. Cool movie.


  2. Jonathan said:

    Once again I am going to have to disagree with pretty much everything you said….

    Okay just kidding. This is one of those “perfect movies” for many reasons. First you can just watch it and enjoy it without having to come up with highfaluting reasons for why it is or isn’t the best movie ever. It’s a fun show that depicts a family and their idiosyncrasies and relationships between themselves and their community. It’s clever, funny, has witty dialogue, and the horrible parts on war don’t leave a bitter, unpleasant feeling.

    Then there is the more in depth look and the lessons they teach us (I did not use the word “analytical” for a reason). The show is very non-judgemental about people and how they live their lives. I don’t think that the movie says “hey look at me not being judgey and being all artistic and cool about it before it was even cool to not be judgey”. It merely represents people as they are and how they act (ok yes I’m aware that this is fiction, but my comment still stands). Even though some of the characters show that they have preconceived notions on how things are and how things must be, it’s not presented as a character flaw, but as a character trait. The mother is the best example with her religious fervor, but her belief is never represented as fanaticism; she is portrayed as a strong woman with strong beliefs who still has a firm grasp on reality. Her actions during the looting of the farm (despite the goose incident) are telling. A more subtle scene that portrays this (I feel) is during the religious meeting where the young woman stands to ask for help to withstand temptation and not get earrings. This scene is presented without bias, leaving the viewer to judge. Or not. 🙂

    Overwhelmingly, I think that one of the most positive aspects of the film is that people are people first, not members of a certain religion, socioeconomic class, or heck even army. It doesn’t gloss over these differences (e.g those pre-church service races that are really religious wars), but places those second to anything else. Their neighbor, Sam, is treated as a neighbor and not as a member of an opposing religion. And even though the most strongly religious character – Eliza – strongly disapproves of her daughter falling in love with a man who is not only of a different religion but also a soldier, she never shows him hostility, but is welcoming towards him.

    I do think it a little odd that Anthony Perkins was nominated for an Oscar. He did a fine job; I’m just not sure that it was Oscar worth. I would have voted for Robert Middleton over him.

    I would disagree with anyone who thinks that the movie lacks focus and meanders too often from the theme of the Civil War. Frankly I don’t believe that the Civil War is part of the plot. It comes to the family, affects them, and then is gone. The effects of course linger (Sam dies 😦 ) but that’s not the point. The theme of the movie is the family and how they act amongst themselves and others. They go to church. They fight with each other and the goose and call each other names. They disagree. They go find lonely young women. They buy a horse that simply won’t let another horse in front of it. There’s a war. People die. They go to the fair. Sleeveholders and an organ lead to a church investigation.

    The bottom line is that this film is about people, and these people are a family.


    • *rolls eyes* fine–“depiction,” not “analysis.” But think we were trying to say the same thing–so many people in the community/family have strong opinions about what constitutes right and wrong, but they’re all good loving people and manage to, well, be good loving people together.

      SAM DIES?!!! You’re should have prefaced that with ‘spoiler alert’!!!


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