The Birdwell family lives an idyllic life in mid-19th century Indiana, pursuing their Quaker faith with few challenges more upsetting than father Jess's "unholy" purchase of a pump organ, which leads his straitlaced wife, Eliza, to spend a few nights sleeping in the barn. When the Civil War moves into the state, however, it upsets their peaceful existence. Elder son Josh follows his own conscience and signs up for battle. When Josh is injured and an old family friend killed, Jess almost goes to battle himself. Even Eliza takes a broom to a hungry Confederate soldier out to make a meal of the family's pet goose. Their struggle with faith during turbulent times provides a rare insight into one of America's founding religions.
Director: William Wyler
Producer: Walter Mirisch, William Wyler
Screenplay: Michael Wilson, Jessamyn West, Robert Wyler
Based on the novel The Friendly Persuasion
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing: Robert Belcher, Edward A. Biery, Robert Swink
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (Jess Birdwell), Dorothy McGuire (Eliza Birdwell), Anthony Perkins (Josh Birdwell), Richard Eyer (Little Jess Birdwell), Robert Middleton (Sam Jordan), Phyllis Love (Mattie Birdwell), Peter Mark Richman (Gard Jordan), Walter Catlett (Professor Quigley), Richard Hale (Purdy), Marjorie Main (The Widow Hudspeth), Edward Andrews (Soldier), Robert Fuller (Youthful Soldier at Shooting Gallery), Doug McClure (Soldier), William Schallert (Young Husband)
Why FRIENDLY PERSUASION is Essential
was the first film to cast Gary Cooper as a parent with grown children and gave him one of his best late career roles. The internal conflicts as Jess Birdwell struggles with his son's decision to forsake his Quaker faith to fight in the Civil War and his own urge to avenge a friend's death in battle provided a perfect vehicle for his simple, understated acting style.
The film's conflicts, as the family is torn between the pacifism of their Quaker faith and the gradual encroachment of war, makes it one of director William Wyler's most autobiographical works. Wyler had grown up in the Alsace, a region of Europe whose ownership has passed between Germany and France at various times. During World War I, Wyler and his family were among the many families there faced with conflicting loyalties. The situation inspired a fascination with children of war and families living on the outskirts of war also reflected in Mrs. Miniver
After a false start in The Actress
(1953), Friendly Persuasion
made Anthony Perkin a star on the rise.
was Wyler's first fiction film in color (he had also used color for the World War II documentary The Memphis Belle
in 1944). He worked tirelessly with cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks to maintain the same use of deep focus he had mastered in his black-and-white films, modeling the picture's look on the Dutch masters.
The film was the first major production for Allied Artists, an offshoot of Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, and helped Production Head Walter Mirisch move into the ranks of top Hollywood producers before leaving the studio to found his own independent company, The Mirisch Corporation.
by Frank Miller