Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friendly Persuasion

A quick Blogger search claims that I haven't blogged about the film Friendly Persuasion before. Since I only first saw it last April, and I don't recall it airing that much since the TCM showing last April, the search function is probably not acting up for once. At any rate, Friendly Persuasion is airing again tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM on TCM.

Gary Cooper stars as Jess Birdwell, the patriarch of a Quaker farming family in southern Indiana in 1862. That year should give you a clue as to what's about to happen; 1862 is smack dab in the middle of the US Civil War. This presents a bit of a problem for the Birdwells, as Quakers are supposed to be devout pacifists, which is more or less currently the case. Then again, they're in Indiana, and it's not as if the war was going on in Indiana -- all the battles were in the South. But back to the Civil War later. Jess has a wife, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), and two kids who are just about all grown up: son Josh (Anthony Perkins), and daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love). (There's a third, much younger kid as well.) Josh needs a girlfriend, while Mattie is in love with young Gard (Mark Richman), a nice young man who just happens not to be a Quaker -- which means he's also going off to war.

The first half or so of the movie deals mostly with the Birdwells' personal lives, and especially with the fact that Eliza is better at adhering to the Quaker tenets than Jess is. It's a bit sentimental, but also gives the story a good chance to develop some humor and some sympathy for all the characters. This is most notable in a scene where Jess takes Josh with him to visit the widow Hudspeth (Marjorie Main) to propose a business deal. Hudspeth has three daughters, who are all clearly looking for the company of a man, something which makes both Jess and Josh uncomfortable. But as I said at the beginning, you know where the film is going, which is that the war is going to come to the Birdwells.

This happens in the form of a Confederate raiding party. The Birdwells' farm is under threat, as is their farmhand Enoch, a runaway slave. But how to defend themselves? You'd think that self-defense ought not be a problem, but apparently pacifists do have a problem with it, at least as presented in Friendly Persuasion. Then again, if it weren't for this moral conflict, there wouldn't be a story. And even though the story is somewhat predictable, it's still very well executed, making for quite a good film.

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