Friday, May 20, 2016

2016 Cannes Marathon: Friendly Persuasion


(Palme d’Or Winner at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival)



Based on the novel by Jessamyn West, Friendly Persuasion is the story of a pacifist who tries to shield his family from the horrors of the American Civil War while dealing with changing times. Directed by William Wyler and screenplay by Michael Wilson, the film is an exploration of a Quaker family in Indiana who cope with the growing changes and conflict in their world as a father deals with the idea of the Civil War being in front of his house. Starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, and Phyllis Love. Friendly Persuasion is a compelling yet heartfelt film from William Wyler.

Set in 1862 Southern Indiana, the film revolves around a Quaker family who deal with growing changes in their environment as well as the idea of the American Civil War coming in front of their home. It plays into this family who live by certain rules as they try to maintain a way of life but are tempted by these changes including the family patriarch but it is the mother that refuses to budge in as she wants to maintain some order. Michael Wilson’s script play into this conflict that a family is dealing with where the patriarch Jess Bridwell (Gary Cooper) and his wife/preacher Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) ponder about their own ideals and the fact that their ideals are now being seen as old-fashioned in the light of war. While the Bridwell family oppose the idea of violence, it is clear that their stance of pacifism is fallible as the sense of danger about the Confederates coming to their home and destroy everything does loom. Even as their eldest son Joshua (Anthony Perkins) gives in to the need to fight as a way to protect his family as Jess understands but Eliza isn’t.

William Wyler’s direction is very straightforward as it plays into a period of time in America where a group of people who have meetings in their own church as church service and do things very differently. Shot on location in a studio and an estate in the San Fernando Valley, the film does play into a look that is sort of a western but it’s really a melodrama set during the American Civil War. Wyler’s approach to wide and medium shots says a lot to the locations as well as the world the Bridwell family would encounter whether it’s their church or a county fair where many including Jess succumb to some for temptation in the film’s first half. Yet, it would be a moment where Eliza realizes that she shouldn’t be constrained by the rules of her faith as it relates to the little things in life as well as can’t ignore that something has to be done. While Jess isn’t willing to go out there and fight either, he also knows something still has to be done as he is reluctant about letting Joshua go out there.

There are moments in Wyler’s direction that are quite lively such as the scene where Jess and Joshua encounter a house full of women during a sale where it is played for laughs. There is also a moment where Jess decides to have a horse race with a friend to see who can get to church as it is quite thrilling but in a light-hearted fashion. By the time the film’s third act emerges where it is about what is coming and the family realizing that the Confederates will arrive. The drama is heightened as there is a sense of what might happen and what might not happen. Yet, the aftermath doesn’t say a lot about some of the fallible aspects of the Christian faith but the realization that pacifism doesn’t work all of the time. Overall, Wyler creates a somber yet touching film about a Quaker family dealing with the American Civil War.

Cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks does excellent work with the film’s cinematography to capture some of the attention to detail in the colors for the exteriors as well as some of the interiors in how grey and colorless the Quakers church in comparison to the other church nearby which is more lively and colorful. Editors Richard Belcher, Edward A. Biery, and Robert Swink do nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with bits of style in the carriage race and a battle scene towards the end. Art director Ted Haworth and set decorator Joseph Kish do nice work with the look of the Birdwell home along with the churches and places they go to.

Costume designer Dorothy Jeakins does terrific work with the costumes as it play into the period clothes where many of the clothes that the Birdwell lack bits of any color with the exception of the dress the daughter Mattie wears at home. Sound editor Del Harris does superb work with the sound as it play into the activities in the farm as well as the chaos that play into the battle and fear that looms in Joshua. The film’s music by Dimitri Tiomkin is wonderful for its serene and playful orchestral score as it filled with a lot of string arrangements to play into its varied tone as well as some songs that are sung by some of characters that is co-written with Paul Francis Webster including a very dull title track sung by Pat Boone.

The film’s fantastic cast include some notable small roles from John Smith as Joshua’s friend Caleb, Walter Catlett as a music instrument salesman that Eliza doesn’t like, Theodore Newton as a Union Army leader Major Harvey who speaks at the Quaker church, and as a trio of sisters whom Joshua meet in Edna Skinner, Majorie Durant, and Frances Farwell. Marjorie Main is wonderful as the very funny Hudsepth as a widow that Jess would meet as he would deal with her unique company as it include her daughters. Peter Mark Richman is terrific as Gard Jordan as a Union officer who is a family friend that has feelings for the Birdwell daughter Mattie. Robert Middleton is superb as Gard’s father Sam as a friend of the family who likes to have carriage races with Jess while being someone who understands the Birdwell’s view but also make him aware of a world that is ever-changing.

Richard Eyer’s performance as the youngest child called Little Jess is just one of those child performances that is just annoying to watch due to the fact that he’s over-acting at times and it doesn’t feel natural at all. Phyllis Love is excellent as Mattie Birdwell as the middle child who is eager to participate in some of the activities as the other young people she knows as she is also in love with Gard. Anthony Perkins is fantastic as Joshua as the eldest child who isn’t sure about wanting to fight as he doesn’t like violence and knows it is wrong to kill but finds himself realizing that something has to be done. Dorothy McGuire is amazing as Eliza Birdwell as a Quaker preacher who is the embodiment of everything the Quaker represents yet she has a sensitivity and grace that is just so radiant to watch as she is one of the film’s major highlights. Finally, there’s Gary Cooper in a remarkable performance as Jess Birdwell as a Quaker farmer who is aware of changing times as he also tries to maintain his values along with the idea of what to do in the face of war knowing that turning the other cheek isn’t a good thing.

Friendly Persuasion is a marvelous film from William Wyler that features great performances from Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire. It’s a period melodrama that play into the idea of non-violence and some of its fallacies along with some of the constraints of the Quaker faith despite being a bit heavy-handed and sentimental at times. In the end, Friendly Persuasion is a brilliant film from William Wyler.

William Wyler Films: (Straight Shootin’) - (Anybody Here Seen Kelly?) - (The Shakedown) - (Hell’s Heroes) - (A House Divided (1931 film)) - (Tom Brown of Culver) - (Counsellor at Law) - (Glamour (1934 film)) - (The Good Fairy) - (The Gay Deception) - (These Three) - (Dodsworth) - (Come and Get It) - (Dead End (1937 film)) - (Jezebel) - (Wuthering Heights (1939 film)) - (The Westerner) - (The Letter) - (The Little Foxes) - (Mrs. Miniver) - (Memphis Belle: A Story of Flying Fortress) - (The Best Years of Our Lives) - (Thunderbolt!) - (The Heiress) - (Detective Story (1951 film)) - (Carrie (1952 film)) - Roman Holiday - (The Desperate Hours) - (The Big Country) - Ben-Hur - (The Children’s Hour) - (The Collector (1965 film)) - (How to Steal a Million) - (Funny Girl) - (The Liberation of L.B. Jones)

© thevoid99 2016

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