This is the story of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War. You already want to skip it, don’t you? Believe me, it’s better than you expect.
The family consists of parents Jess (Gary Cooper) and Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins), teenage daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) and Little Jess (Richard Eyer). They all have their traditional Quaker clothing, but all but Eliza have some sort of temptations that stray them away from their strict faith. Jess starts to take an interest in music, Mattie is starting to get romantic notions about dancing with boys and the sons are curious about the war they keep hearing about. Little Jess also has an enemy that tempts him toward violence; Samantha the goose has become a pest to Little Jess and a pet to Eliza, but I think anyone watching the film will absolutely love her.
A good portion of the film makes sure we understand how Quakers live. It seems there is more don’ts than dos. No music, dancing, violence, gambling, drinking, smoking, the list goes on and on. Of course, everyone but Eliza, who is a pastor at their church, has their vices and it’s Eliza’s job to constantly keep them on track. We hear a Methodist church singing on Sunday morning and the we see the Quakers, solemn and silent. They sit men on one side of the little church, women on the other, all facing the middle and simply bow their heads in silent prayer or read their bibles. The silence is only broken when a member has something they want to proclaim, usually a confession or a praise to God. The kids look so bored at these meetings.
One day, a man from the Union army comes to the Quaker’s meeting to ask if any men would volunteer to fight. He’s told right out that it is against their religion to fight. This gets the idea into Josh’s mind that perhaps he should fight, if he doesn’t defend his family who will? And of course devout Eliza cannot bear to see her son do something so against their beliefs. This moral dilemma is mostly in the second half of the film, but is the climax of the drama.
This film is a fun wholesome family-pleaser, it has the same kind of values and charm of films like Old Yeller and Disney’s Davey Crockett. A good amount of the film is fun, showing the family at the county fair with all sorts of games and activities to tempt them. There’s even a part where Jess and Josh are traveling and meet a house full of women who go gaga over Josh. Believe me, watching Anthony Perkins politely try to get away from the girls is hilarious.
If you’re looking for something edgy, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a good film to watch with your kids, show them a new perspective with the Quaker lifestyle or a very small lesson on the Civil War, Friendly Persuasion is perfect.
“I hope nobody saw us. I want to come to meeting with nothing in my heart but peace and love.”