Thursday, December 9, 2021

Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire charm us with their “Friendly Persuasion”

Friendly Persuasion (1956) is an American drama directed by William Wyler and starring Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire. Others in the cast include Anthony Perkins (in his second film) and Marjorie Main. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson and the music was by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The film centers around the Birdwell family whose Quacker religious beliefs are challenged when Civil War intrudes on their idyllic Indiana farm life. Jess Birdwell (Cooper) is the family patriarch who struggles with his interest in music and horse racing. Both of these interests vex his wife Eliza (McGuire) who is a  Quaker minister who is opposed to war or violence of any kind. These beliefs are challenged when her oldest son Joshua (Perkins) thinks he must fight to save their farm.

The lobby card downplays some of the film’s more serious subject matter.

William Wyler (1902 - 1981) was an American (born in Mulhouse, Alsace, then part of Germany) film director and producer. He won the Academy Award for Best Direction three times: Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959). Wyler was nominated 12 times for Best Director, an Academy Awards history record. Wyler started working in the movie business during the silent era, eventually making a name for himself as a director in the early 1930s. He would go on to direct Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), and The Little Foxes (1941). Actress Bette Davis received three Oscar nominations under Wyler’s direction, winning her second Oscar for her performance in Jezebel (1938). Other popular films directed by Wyler include The Heiress (1949), Roman Holiday (1954), Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Big Country (1958), and Funny Girl 1968).

Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961) was an American film actor who was known for his down-to-earth, understated acting style. He was a major star for almost four decades until his untimely death at age 60. Cooper got his start in silent film but easily made the transition to sound. During the early 1930s, he became a major star in films like A Farewell to Arms (1932), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Other popular Cooper films include Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1952). Cooper won two Best Actor Academy Awards: Sergeant York and High Noon (1952).

Dorothy McGuire (1916 – 2001) was an American theater and film actress. McGuire developed an interest in acting at a young age. At 13, she made her stage debut in A Kiss for Cinderella in Omaha, Nebraska, her hometown. Henry Fonda, also from Omaha, was her costar. As an adult, she achieved fame on Broadway in Claudia”(1941 to 1943). In 1943, she starred in the film version with Robert Young that was a huge success. She reunited with Young for The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and replaced Gene Tierney in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). She was nominated for Best Actress in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Some of her other films include Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Trial (1955), and Friendly Persuasion (1956). McGuire made several popular films for Walt Disney including Old Yeller (1957), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and Summer Magic (1963).

Dorothy McGuire and Gary Cooper

Friendly Persuasion trivia
  • Katharine Hepburn was Wyler’s first choice to play Eliza Birdwell.
  • Gary Cooper didn’t want to play the father of grown children, even though he was 55  years old when the film was made. He also wasn’t sure his fans would accept him in a passive role.
  • Gary Cooper wanted Ingrid Bergman to play Eliza but she turned the part down.
  • Other actresses considered for the role of Eliza included Jane Wyman (she turned it down), Jean Arthur, Vivien Leigh, and Eleanor Parker.

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

Why watch this film?
  • It’s a chance to see Gary Cooper later in his career where he isn’t the romantic hero.
  • It features a wonderful performance by Dorothy McGuire, winner of the National Board of Review’s Best Actress Award for 1956.
  • This was considered Anthony Perkins’s breakthrough film role; he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It was the only Oscar nomination he would receive.
  • It’s a showcase for some of the best character actors working in film at the time including Marjorie Main and Walter Catlett.

To join the discussion on December 13, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and Zoom link to join the discussion.

Discussion questions:
  1. Did you enjoy Gary Cooper in a more restrained, non-action role? Was he believable as a Quaker patriarch?
  2. What did you make of Eliza and Jess Birdwell’s position when it came to the Civil War?
  3. Were the Birdwell’s true to their beliefs?
  4. Did you have a favorite scene or character?
  5. This was director William Wyler’s first color feature film. Do you think this film would have worked as well in black and white?

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