|'Friendly Persuasion': Love, Quaker Style|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
01:51PM / Friday, August 28, 2020
I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.
Director William Wyler's profoundly sentimental "Friendly Persuasion" (1956), adapted by blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson from Jessamyn West's novel about how a Quaker family in southern Indiana struggles to maintain its pacifism during the Civil War, is a portrait in bravery.
Doubtless, previous generations have found savvy parallels analogous to the quandaries of the era in which they lived, owing in great part to West's enlightened take on the true nature of courage. In our current day, the glaring disgrace that can benefit best from the altruism under siege that Gary Cooper's Jess Birdwell exemplifies is the deadly War of the Mask. It is a trumped-up divisiveness for presumed political gain that continues to kill Americans in catastrophic numbers. No governmental chicanery since the Vietnam War has caused such ghoulishly pointless death.
Calling Dr. Freud
You see, the overwhelmingly sad fact is that by tapping into a mindset all too anxious to mistake antisocial egotism for individual freedom and linking it to some aberrant idea of machoism, the already festering division among us has been symbolized by refusal to mask-up.
In short, contrary to all medical proof that mask wearing is our only sure way to halt the ugly virus from its murderous wafting, a segment of our population might as well be saying, "Let grandma drop dead; I'm not wearing that sissy thing."
Now, Jess Birdwell, a handsome, strapping fellow who could probably lick many times his weight in such misguided naysayers, feels no need to prove his fearlessness. Real heroes never do. Rather, the farmer's conundrum is how to protect home and hearth from invading Rebel forces without resorting to violent action that'd go against his Quaker creed.
The tragically ironic fact is that true courage in our segment of the population that decries what it sees as an assault on its liberty, regardless of how such a conviction disregards the commonweal, would be to wear a mask. But then, what would your two-fisted buds think?
"Grandpa … What did you do during the Pandemic?"
Still, if one doesn't especially care about humanity, but does give a hoot about appearances, how will it look several years hence, when granddaughter Chloé, looking through family pictures, approaches, troubled look on her innocent face, and asks: "Grandpa … What did you do during the Pandemic? I can't find any pictures with you wearing a mask."
Yeah, yeah you didn't know what was going on. That was pretty popular in Europe after WWII.
None of this is to claim any great spunk on my part. I wear a mask for the same reason that I buckle up in my Chevy, don't jump out of airplanes without a parachute, and won't eat the cream cheese if it's past its expiration date. The thought that I'm possibly saving lives in the bargain is a pleasant conceit, the cherry atop the sundae of my social responsibility.
All of which reminds me, to veer just a moment from a strict adherence to reviewing "Friendly Persuasion," of the last time I changed a flat tire. It was a hot day a few years ago, and there I was, toiling on the apron of my driveway, the petrified lug nuts on the behemoth of a diesel Mercedes I was off-and-on restoring, refusing to budge. Only I can become entirely smudged with grease when changing a tire.
A friendly lady walking by, curious as to my self-imposed drudgery, asked what I was doing. Glib auto enthusiast, film critic and overly liberal employer of shameless metaphors about cherries on sundaes that I am, I matter-of-factly responded, "Every so often I change a flat without AAA's intrusion to prove my manhood."
To which she curiously countered, "I can think of a lot better ways to prove one's manhood." I suddenly gained the strength to set free those lug nuts.
Pretty silly, huh? But not quite as silly as trying to assert one's manliness by not wearing a mask and thus cheating hundreds of thousands of souls from longer lives.
Plainly, Jess Birdwell would have no truck with such uncivil contempt. He knows what it means to be a good citizen and, via his Quaker ethos, gives it an extra-added, spiritual dollop of human accountability. That's why he's the movie's hero. But fear not, friend. While the handsome, good-natured defender of equity can turn his cheek with the best of them, dare thee cross the line that might injure family member or defenseless creature, and ye will be inconveniently surprised.
His great challenge of conscience rears its enigmatic head when son Josh, empathetically played by Anthony Perkins, feels compelled to do his part in the war. Cooper earlier embodied similar, brow-furrowing tenets of antiwar sentiment in "Sergeant York" (1941).
Balancing the heaviness of the moral dilemma, Jess has a puckish side that miffs, yet secretly charms, his super-pious wife, Eliza, minister of the meeting house, portrayed with winsome resolve by Dorothy McGuire. This results in some heartwarming humor and a romantic treatise on the Battle of the Sexes in a sociology that disparages conflict. Suffice it to note, it's all about "Friendly Persuasion."
"Friendly Persuasion" is an Allied Artists Pictures release directed by William Wyler and stars Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Anthony Perkins. Running time: 137 minutes