Those who remember the Fox Laserdisc version of FRIENDLY PERSUASION maybe hesitant to pick up the title on DVD because of the quality issues associated with that previous disc. Right up front, I want to allay those fears because the DVD edition of this wonderful film really outshines the Laserdisc in every way possible. Letís face it, Fox may not have had access to the finest film elements during the period that they controlled the home video rights to FRIENDLY PERSUASION, so it would not be fair to berate their release at this late date. However, this Allied Artists title is now in the hands of Warner Home Video and they have done a truly fine job with the DVD release of FRIENDLY PERSUASION ($20).
Set in 1862, FRIENDLY PERSUASION tells a warm and winning story about a family of Quakers, who are forced to reexamine their own beliefs, when confronted with the realities of the encroaching Civil War. FRIENDLY PERSUASION stars Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the good-natured head of the family, who doesn't adhere as strictly to the Quaker doctrine as his wife Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) might like. Since Eliza is a leader in their church, she sometimes has difficulty reconciling herself with her husband's minor vices, like music or taking their horse for a spirited run in the pursuit of neighborly competition. Jess and Eliza's three children are good Quakers like their parents, but seem to take after their father in his propensity for being led astray by life's simpler pleasures. Much of FRIENDLY PERSUASION is quite humorous, although the film never mocks Quaker beliefs. The film presents a slice of life that is funny in the same way that many everyday occurrences appear humorous, when viewed from the outside. FRIENDLY PERSUASION turns quite serious at the end of the film, when Confederate soldiers arrive and begin looting and burning the other farms in the vicinity of the Birdwell home. It is at this point, that Jess and his oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins) have to look deep within themselves and decide if they will fight against the enemy to protect their family, or follow their Quaker beliefs without question.
I have always been quite fond of FRIENDLY PERSUASION because of its very human story and its wonderful cast. Gary Cooper has seldom been better than he is as Jess Birdwell; his portrayal is warm, humorous and very real. Dorothy McGuire is perfect as his loving wife, who sometimes has to be the voice of his conscience, as well as the Quaker community. It's nice to see Anthony Perkins in one of his earliest performances, as a young man struggling with doing what is right. It is roles like this one in 1956's FRIENDLY PERSUASION that made Norman Bates such a shock to audiences in 1960. The fine supporting cast of FRIENDLY PERSUASION includes Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, Phyllis Love, Peter Mark Richman, Walter Catlett, Richard Hale, Joel Fluellen and Marjorie Main.
Warner Home Video has done a very nice job of transcribing FRIENDLY PERSUASION to DVD. FRIENDLY PERSUASION is framed at 1.66:1 and the presentation is enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is usually crisp, with a respectable level of detail; although shots that contain rear projection or optical fades appear somewhat softer. Additionally, film grain is noticeable in places, particularly where there is some sort of optical effect. The film element utilized for the transfer is in very good shape, displaying some blemishes, which all relatively minor in nature. Color reproduction is good for a DeLuxe film from this period. There is no real fading; in fact the colors are fairly vibrant. Flesh tones are appealing and the film has a warm earthy quality. There are no problems with either chroma noise or smearing. Blacks are fairly solid and the picture displays a decent level of shadow detail. Noticeable digital compression artifacts are not a problem on this dual layer DVD.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack doesn't have any appreciable distortion or audible background hiss. Dialogue reproduction is clean and intelligible, although there are some frequency limitations that keep the music out of the realm of high fidelity. Overall, this is a good sounding track for a film from this period. A French language soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Supplements are also accessible though the menu system. For this release, Warner dug up a kinescope from the television series Wide Wide World, which features a segment on FRIENDLY PERSUASION. This on-location look at the film shows the actors rehearsing a scene on a day that director William Wyler called in sick (I wonder if the television cameras had anything to do with that). Also included on the DVD is a theatrical trailer, a cast listing and production notes.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION is a minor classic that many film buffs will want to add to their collections. If you have never seen FRIENDLY PERSUASION, the fine looking DVD presentation is the best way to experience the film for the first time, outside of a revival house.
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