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Film / Friendly Persuasion

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"A man's life ain't worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience."

Friendly Persuasion is a 1956 American period drama film directed by William Wyler, starring Gary Cooper.

The Birdwells are a family of Quakers in southern Indiana during The American Civil War. Patriarch Jess (Cooper) and his wife Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) have a loving relationship that is occasionally interrupted by normal squabbles, like Jess's purchase of an organ, despite general Quaker disapproval of the playing of music. Youngest son "Little Jess" (Richard Eyer) has an adversarial relationship with the family's pet goose and daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) is in love with Gard Jordan (Mark Richman), a non-Quaker local boy who has joined the Union Army. But the main conflict is the war, and the hesitation of pacifistic Quakers about joining the war effort. The Birdwells' oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins, four years before Psycho) is particularly torn about whether or not to join up and fight.


Nominated for five Academy Awards, though it didn't win any. Said to be one of Ronald Reagan's favorite movies; as President he gave a copy to Mikhail Gorbachev during a summit meeting.


  • All Women Are Lustful: Played for laughs in a comic sequence where Jess and Josh, out traveling the countryside to sell their produce, stop at a farm that contains a lonely widow and three obviously horny daughters. The daughters nearly eat Josh alive before the Birdwells make their escape.
    Widow Hudspeth: Menfolks are so scarce around here that the girls get carried away at the sight of one.
  • Artistic License – History: The film is set in 1862, but John Hunt Morgan's raid into the North took place in 1863. (It led to disaster for the Confederates, as Morgan wound up trapped in the North and had to surrender his whole command.)
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  • As You Know: "Sam, the elders! The ministry and oversight committee from our church!"
  • Berserker Tears: Josh hesitates to pull the trigger when the order to fire is given, until the soldier lying next to him is shot. Then Josh starts shooting at the Confederates while the tears roll down his face.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The blood staining Sam's teeth is a signal that his wound is pretty bad.
  • Camera Abuse: When a Confederate falls off his horse and into the river after Josh shoots him, water splashes the camera.
  • Dances and Balls: Mattie dances with Gard at the fair, much to Eliza's displeasure.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Union veteran giving Josh some friendly advice while they lay in wait for Morgan's men has an eyepatch over one eye.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from the 1945 novel The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West.
  • Foreshadowing: A Union soldier addressing the Quakers early in the film tries to get them to join up and support the war effort, saying the war is about protecting their own homes. Later the widow Hudspeth asks Jess if he's seen any raiders. Sure enough, Confederate raiders come through the area.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • The organ salesman describes the Quakers' dislike of music as "mighty queer".
    • The film's tagline (see the poster art above) might inspire a few chuckles nowadays.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Mattie comes down from the attic with Gard, catches her parents kissing, and berates them, saying "Hast thee forgotten we have company?" This seconds after Mattie and Gard were kissing in the attic.
  • P.O.V. Shot: From the perspective of a Confederate officer who scans the far bank of the river, and fails to see the well-camouflaged Union-militia force.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Eliza, pissed off about the organ, has gone to sleep in the barn. Jess goes out to bring her a blanket. They embrace, and the next scene shows them leaving the barn—the next morning, wearing the same clothes.
  • Shell Game: A carny has a shell game going at the county fair. Little Jess is really good at finding the bean, much to the carny's irritation.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Mattie is swinging in a swing during one scene where Gard is courting her.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The climax of the film examines how far this philosophy can really last when your own home is under attack. Eliza offers the soldiers the hospitality of her table, but she snaps when one of them tries to catch the goose for eating and is disturbed that she became violent, even with just a broom. Josh and Jess tear themselves up over the question of killing. Josh ends up killing. Jess, even with the body of his friend at his feet and his rifle pointed at a Confederate soldier, ultimately decides not to shoot.
  • Title Theme Tune: "Friendly Persuasion", sung over the opening credits and at the end by Pat Boone.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted, or rather, practiced in-universe by the characters. The Quakers use the old-timey thee instead of you in speech. However, they consistently misuse it, saying "thee" both as the subject (correct) and also as the object in sentences, when they should be using "thou." This is how Quakers habitually talked in the 19th-century, although latter-day Quakers have fallen out of this habit.
    "What is thee saying, child?" (should be "What art thou saying, child?")