William Wyler

Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly persuasion

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.

What’s on TCM: November 2012

Happy November!  Even though this isn’t one of my favorite months on TCM, it’s still a pretty busy month.  First of all, Constance Bennett is the Star of the Month, which I’m pretty happy to see.  Her movies will be shown every Tuesday night in November.

If you’re a fan of seeing how films compare to the novels they were based on, you are going to love this month.  Every Monday and Wednesday night will be full of movies based on books and the adaptations will continue until prime time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I love the idea of this series, but I would have liked to have seen it done on Mondays and Thursdays instead, just because it’s kind of an avalanche of book adaptations during the first part of the week.

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The Children’s Hour (1961)

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since they were teenagers.  They both decided to become teachers, and after they graduated from college, the two of them opened a private boarding school for girls.  After years of hard work, their school finally starts to turn a profit and Karen finally agrees to marry her fiance Dr. Joe Cardin (James Garner).  However, Karen’s decision is bittersweet to Martha.  She wants Karen to be happy, but is afraid of losing her best friend and that she will leave the school once she gets married.  Martha’s jealousy leads to her getting in an argument with her aunt and fellow teacher Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins), who tells Martha that her devotion to her friend is unnatural.

But every school has its problem children.  In this case, it’s Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin).  Mary is constantly getting into trouble and when Karen punishes her by not letting her go to some boat races that weekend, Mary gets back at her by telling her wealthy grandmother Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter) that Karen and Martha are lovers.  She invented this story based on what her friends overheard of Martha and Lily’s argument and threw in some bits from a scandalous book she and her friends have been secretly reading.  Amelia is absolutely horrified, pulls Mary from the school, and calls all the other parents and gets them to do the same.

Karen and Martha don’t understand why all the students are leaving, and when they’re clued in, Karen, Martha, and Joe try to confront Amelia and Mary.  Joe questions Mary and even though he clearly catches her lying, Mary drags her friend Rosalie into the lie and Amelia sides with them.  Karen and Martha sue her for slander, but the case ends up being dragged into the media, they lose their case, and they become outcasts in town.  Joe proudly stands by Karen and Martha through the whole ordeal, but eventually, all the rumors make him question the truth.  Even Martha begins to wonder if the rumors were true.  Eventually, the truth does come out, but no amount of money from Mrs. Tilford can fix the damage that has been done.

I absolutely adored The Children’s Hour.  Exceptionally well written and beautifully acted all around, Shirley MacLaine particularly hit it right out of the park.  Her performance was truly compelling, heartfelt, and tragic.  This was a movie way ahead of its time and is still hugely relevant today.  Movies that deal with the ramifications of gossip were definitely nothing new in 1961, but I was impressed to see a movie deal with homophobia so frankly while the production codes were still in force.  Actually, this isn’t the first film adaptation of The Children’s Hour.  In 1936, it had been made into the movie These Three starring Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, and Joel McCrea.  But since the production codes were enforced much more strictly in 1936, they had to change the story to be about a love triangle between Martha, Karen, and Joe.  They couldn’t even use the original name because it was so tied to the original Lillian Hellman play.  I’ve never seen These Three, although now I’d like to, but The Children’s Hour is a very worthwhile movie.

What’s on TCM: February 2011

In just a few days, 31 Days of Oscar 2011 will be underway!  I’ve been watching 31 Days of Oscar for so long now that I feel like I’ve seen most everything they typically show during this month, but there’s always lots of stuff I’m glad to revisit.  Every year, TCM comes up with a theme to tie together the movies for 31 Days of Oscar and this year the theme is “trivia.”  Each day, TCM will be playing movies that have something in common like retired categories (Feb. 6), “the best of the best” (all of 1939’s Best Picture nominees, Feb. 12), and “nominated for playing a nominee” (March 3).   Be sure to check  TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar website to get the full details and to download a complete schedule.  Now, onto my picks for the month!

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