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...
(based on the novel by Jessamyn West)
Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, Phyllis Love, Peter Mark Richman, Marjorie Main
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.