Saturday, October 24, 2009

1956 - Friendly Persuasion

Cupcakes. Mmm, cupcakes. Kat and I have discovered a New York chain of cupcake stores (now all over the country) called Crumbs. If there's one in your town, stop reading this and go there immediately. Just take a look at their website, if you need convincing. The original store is directly across the road from where I'm currently rehearsing, which, although convenient, is dangerously tempting.

In fact, after rehearsal last night, I picked up a White Hot Chocolate and a Caramel Apple to share with my darling wife as we watched the next film on 1956's Best Picture nominee list...

Friendly Persuasion
William Wyler
Michael Wilson
(based on the novel by Jessamyn West)
Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, Phyllis Love, Peter Mark Richman, Marjorie Main
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
0 wins

The Birdwells are a Quaker family living in Civil War Indiana. Being Quakers, they live a simple existence, foregoing such pleasures as music, dancing and using the word, "you". But the world is changing and these forbidden activities become more and more intriguing, especially to Jess, the Birdwell patriarch, who is tempted to purchase an organ much to his wife's dismay. The ultimate test of their faith, however, comes when Union soldiers request the help of Quaker men in the fight against the Confederacy. The Birdwells' eldest son, Josh, is particularly tormented as he struggles to reconcile his feelings of responsibility with his faith's principle of pacifism.

Friendly Persuasion is a pleasant enough film. Nothing ground breaking, but pleasant. A pleasant mix of humour and sincerity. A pleasant slate of characters who are interesting and conflicted. A pleasant director who had already won two Oscars and would take his third in just a few more years. See? Pleasant. All the right ingredients for a satisfying cinematic experience. And it is satisfying. Which really should be enough, but perhaps alongside the vast catalogue of brilliant films at the heart of this project, Friendly Persuasion simply becomes shadowed by their greatness.

Maybe it's because more than half the film is occupied by comic relief. If it were an out-and-out comedy, this may not matter so much, but the style of comedy is that of a serious film lightening the mood after a dramatic scene. Except the dramatic scenes in this film mostly appear at the end, which results in a large portion of the film containing scene after scene of comic relief without a break. It's like it needed, dare I say it, some dramatic relief.

Don't misconstrue me, however. The comedy is entertaining and well-played. Pleasant, you might even say. Gary Cooper's portrayal of Jess with all his awkwardness is especially joyful to witness. But as amusing as it is to watch him explain to his wife his purchase of a musical instrument, the potential for emotion clearly sits with the Quakers' torment as they struggle to remain non-violent in a land rife with war. A young Anthony Perkins (pictured), whose character Josh carries this side of the story, delivers a particularly commendable performance.

At first, the constant use of the word "thee" is a tad distracting, but once you become acclimated, it becomes quite natural. But there's still the issue of its grammatical usage. Perhaps it's because I'm in the midst of rehearsing a Shakespeare play that I recognised the script's misuse of the word. Sometimes when they say, "thee", they should be saying, "thou". However, upon further investigation, this was apparently how Quakers used the word, so it's not the screenwriter's mistake after all.

Speaking of the screenwriter, this film and its script became embroiled in a fascinating period in the history of the Academy Awards. In 1956, scribe Michael Wilson was blacklisted as a result of the McCarthyism hysteria gripping the nation at the time. Consequently, his name did not appear in the film's opening credits and, according to Academy by-laws, he was ineligible to be nominated for an Oscar. The screenwriting achievement itself was eligible, however, and indeed, received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay without Wilson's name attached. The final ballot sent to Academy members only included the other four nominees, so Friendly Persuasion, despite having six official nominations, only had the opportunity to win five. Nonetheless, since it didn't succeed in any of the other five categories, it seems unlikely it would have won the Screenplay award. In 1996, Wilson's credit was restored to the film and, in 2002, the Academy reinstated his name into official nomination records.


  1. If you love cupcakes you have to try sugar sweet sunshine - its on rivington in the lower east side.. while your there goto economy candy :)

  2. Friendly Persuasion had a bit too much corn for me. A nice family film, with quite the cast and crew pedigree, but I'll take the grittier 1956 movies The Killing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    Poor Anthony Perkins; if he wasn't tormented by his pacifist beliefs in conflict with protecting his family, he was having to deal with three horny farmer's daughters. Perkins made a career playing these conflicted characters, and he did it very well.

    The 50s were known for theme music often sung by popular male singers. This time it's Pat Boone crooning "Thee I Love." It somehow didn't seem to fit the time period to me, and while it had a pretty melody, it was used incessantly throughout the film (in many variations I might add)

    On another note, those cupcakes look outrageously good.

  3. and when you are next on the West Coast - the best place to go is