More About Friendly Persuasion
Indiana, 1862. Quakers Jess and Eliza Birdwell (Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire) live on their family farm. There are only minor ruffles in their quiet life--youngest son, Little Jess, has a running battle with the pet goose, Samantha; Eliza disapproves when Jess turns their weekly buggy ride to worship into a race with neighbor Sam Jordan (Robert Middleton). But the Civil War threatens their calm. Will the Quaker men defend themselves against the invading Confederate Army? Their oldest son, Josh (Anthony Perkins), is torn between beliefs and desires. And what will Jess do when put to the test?
1957 - Cannes - Palme d'Or Winner
Main Cast & Crew
William Wyler - Director
When William Wyler acquired the script for FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Michael Wilson, he wanted it focused on Jess Birdwell and what he would do, as a Quaker pacifist, if his wife and family were threatened. Jessamyn West, author of the stories on which Wilson's script was based, was persuaded to rework the script with Wyler's brother, Robert. The result is this entertaining, discursive film. Although the Civil War is an ever-present threat, life goes on for the Birdwells. The family is tempted by the lures of a county fair--daughter Mattie by dance, Josh by wrestling, and Jess by a shooting contest. On a seed-selling trip, Jess and Josh meet the widow Hudspeth (Majorie Main) and her rapacious daughters. Jess trades his beautiful but slow horse for the widow's ugly but fast horse--affecting the outcome of the weekly races. And Sam's son Gard Jordan (Mark Richman) courts Mattie. Then the war arrives. Gard leaves Mattie (Phyllis Love, movingly capturing the hopes and dreams and fears of a young girl). Josh makes his choice. And, ironically, Eliza comes close to betraying her beliefs when she defends her pet goose, Samantha, while Jess manages to defend himself without betraying himself.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York on November 1, 1956. Wyler wanted to shoot FRIENDLY PERSUASION on a farm in southern Indiana, but instead the locations were filmed on the Roland V. Lee ranch in the San Fernando Valley, near Hollywood. Michael Wilson initially wrote the script of FRIENDLY PERSUASION in 1946. It was based on a collection of short stories by Jessamyn West about Quaker life in Indiana around the time of the Civil War. Wilson wrote the script for Frank Capra. But Capra never made the movie. Subsequently, Wilson was blacklisted after invoking the Fifth Amendment when questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Then, in the mid-1950s, William Wyler acquired the script. He wanted to make changes but was unable to hire Wilson because of the blacklist. With the help of his assistant Stuart Millar--who later was the producer of BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and LITTLE BIG MAN--Wyler persuaded Jessamyn West to rework the script with his brother Robert Wyler. According to Wyler and Millar, West invented the character of Sam Jordan for the movie and, with Robert Wyler, wrote the entire second half of the movie and completely rewrote the scenes that were derived from Wilson's script. In spite of this, West and Robert Wyler were denied script credit by the Writers Guild. And, because of the blacklist, Wilson was denied credit by the film's distributors. As a result, FRIENDLY PERSUASION was released without a screenplay credit--which made it very strange when the movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best screenplay. In 1992, as glasnost began, President Ronald Reagan presented a videocasette of FRIENDLY PERSUASION to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev at a state dinner in Moscow. Reagan said FRIENDLY PERSUASION "has sweep and majesty and pathos. It shows not just the tragedy of war but the problem of pacifism, the nobility of patriotism, as well as the love of peace." It was a strange gift from the right-wing president whose conservative politics were, to say the least, somewhat at odds with William Wyler's--not to mention the blacklisted Michael Wilson's. Mark Richman, who plays Gard Jordan, later became known as Peter Mark Richman. FRIENDLY PERSUASION was his first movie. Veteran art director-production designer Ted Hayworth was credited on FRIENDLY PERSUASION as Edward S. Hayworth. Veteran set designer/set director Joseph Kish was credited on FRIENDLY PERSUASION as Joe Kish. FRIENDLY PERSUASION marked the ilm debut for actor Anthony Perkins.
"...FRIENDLY PERSUASION made Oscar-nominated Anthony Perkins a star, and it's probably the best movie Gary Cooper made after HIGH NOON..." - 12/15/2000 USA Today, p.13E