The Civil War was a difficult time for everyone and the Birdwell family was no exception. The Birdwells are a family of Quakers from Pennsylvania. Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) is a very devout Quaker minister who abhors any type of violence, even if it’s just her youngest son Little Jess (Richard Eyer) having a conflict with her pet goose. The rest of the family isn’t quite as devout as Eliza. Her husband, Jess (Gary Cooper), enjoys things like music, racing his carriage, and is willing to bring the children to the county fair, all things Eliza disapproves of. He even purchases an organ without Eliza’s permission, knowing she won’t be happy about it. Their teenage daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) has fallen in love with Gard Jordan (Peter Mark Richman), a soldier. And their oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins) is against the violence of war, but isn’t against playing soldiers with Little Jess and even understands violence may be necessary at times.
The family has tried to stay out of the war, but they’re forced to confront the reality of the situation when a Union officer comes to services at their meetinghouse and asks how, given their pacifist beliefs, they plan to deal with the impending threat of Confederate troops moving closer to home. Although some of the Quakers admit to wavering in their pacifist nature, none of them immediately agree to join the Home Guard. Some time later, Gard comes to visit as he is recovering from a gunshot wound and Josh admits he’s considering joining the Army.
Just days later, the Confederates are dangerously close to the Birdwell’s home and Josh decides to go off to fight; a decision that makes Eliza feel like he’s turning his back on her. Jess, on the other hand, is more understanding of Josh’s decision, but hesitates to pick up a gun until it is absolutely necessary. When Jess finally leaves the family home with a gun, Confederate soldiers arrive and even Eliza realizes that she is capable of acting against her deeply held beliefs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned by doing Blogging Under the Stars for the past few years is that having a second choice movie for each day is essential. Inevitably, there’s a couple of days during the month where I can’t watch my first choice movie either because I forgot to set the timer to record it or because the power went out during the movie and messed up my recording. This can be frustrating, but luckily for me, it tends works out in the end because my second choice movie often ends up being something really good; probably better than my first choice. Friendly Persuasion is definitely one of my best “second choice” movie discoveries. (In case you were wondering, my first choice for today’s movie was One Sunday Afternoon.)
At first, I kinda had my doubts about how much I’d like Friendly Persuasion because even with my history of having good second choices, I had really wanted to see One Sunday Afternoon. But it didn’t take long for Friendly Persuasion to start winning me over. I loved everything about it. The writing by Michael Wilson and direction by William Wyler were both excellent. Although Dorothy McGuire and Gary Cooper were also both excellent, Anthony Perkins really steals the show here; this was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by him. Since Perkins is so famous for playing Norman Bates, a deranged murderer, in Psycho, it’s really interesting to see him play a character (beautifully at that) on the opposite end of the spectrum and is extremely reluctant to resort to violence. The movie is so wonderfully sensitive and the characters so intriguing, Friendly Persuasion is the kind of movie I could easily watch over and over again. Loved every minute of it.