Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ tender, beautiful coming-of-age story The Yearling was brought to gloriously Techicolored life by Clarence Brown in his 1946 MGM feature, as moving and as engrossing a family saga as has ever been committed to film.
The Production: 5/5
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ tender, beautiful coming-of-age story The Yearling was brought to gloriously Techicolored life by Clarence Brown in his 1946 MGM feature, as moving and as engrossing a family saga as has ever been committed to film. With Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman scoring career highs as the parents and Claude Jarman, Jr. an unforgettable Jody, The Yearling is everything one could wish from a screen adaptation of a prize-winning book.
In the hardscrabble marshlands of 1878 Florida, Penny Baxter (Gregory Peck) ekes out a poor living raising corn, beans, and potatoes with his hardened wife Orry (Jane Wyman) and his eleven-year old son Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.), the only one of their four children to survive the brutal life of the era. The family must contend with natural disasters like hurricanes and wild animals who invade the farm at the worst possible moments, but they manage to make do with help from feisty neighbors the Forresters. After Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake, a nearby doe is killed for her organs to draw out the poison leaving her faun a helpless forest creature. Jody, who has always wanted a pet of his own, takes on raising the faun as his own project, but as the faun grows, it gets into no end of trouble around the farm risking the livelihood of the family.
Paul Osborn’s screen adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel hits all the high spots and makes for truly inspiring viewing. We see the family in good times and bad where telling stories around the fire is an evening’s entertainment and a hurricane with its days of rain threatens the family’s existence as they see their crops mold and rot with the influx of unending water. Director Clarence Brown captures the everyday life in lengthy sequences that seem small on paper but have monumental entertainment impact: the chase of a bear through the swamplands, a rattlesnake bite which becomes a ticking time bomb with Penny’s life on the line, a menfolks’ fistfight in the middle of the town street, a family visit where bartering a dog for a rifle becomes a psychological duel of wits, and Jody, finally granted his fondest wish of a critter of his own, leaps and frolics with it in the brush. And all of this is presented in breathtaking Technicolor cinematography by Charles Rosher, Leonard Smith, and Arthur Arling that simply stuns and shimmers with emotional and esthetic impact. Yes, the symbolism of the faun coming of age just as Jody begins to understand the complexities of life (and the potential for death around every corner) isn’t lost on the viewer. His growing realization that the almost grown doe is a danger to his family’s well-being and that a choice will have to be made never leaves us for long giving the film’s second hour a gravitas and sense of foreboding that’s palpable.
Both Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman earned well-deserved Oscar nominations (his second and her first) for their performances. Peck’s Penny Baxter is the kind of loving, understanding father we would all wish for ourselves, and Peck’s shining eyes conveying the love for his family with every glance are particularly expressive in this movie, one of his all-time great performances. Jane Wyman’s Orry is harder and less malleable, but the love she feels for her family is no less real, just hidden a bit under her gruffer exterior. And Claude Jarman, Jr. in his first screen performance captures the idealism and vivacity of youth, either lying by a babbling stream dreamily hoping for a pet of his own or working shoulder-to-shoulder with his father planting seeds or mending fences. He was awarded an honorary juvenile Oscar for his work, the same miniature statuette that Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, and Peggy Ann Garner had earned in earlier years. In supporting work, Donn Gift gives a moving performance as the crippled Forrester child Fodderwing who is Jody’s only similarly-aged friend. Forrest Tucker and Chill Wills are two of the older Forrester brothers who are friendly rivals of the Baxters. Henry Travers is the kindly general store owner in a scene or two.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a glorious transfer with exquisite sharpness and Technicolor so rich and solid that the Oscar the photography won is easy to understand. There are no problems with scratches, tears, splices, dirt, or reel cues, all present in earlier home video incarnations. The movie has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is wonderfully age-appropriate. Dialogue is clear and precise, and it has been mixed with Herbert Stothart’s memorable background score and the appropriate sound effects with aplomb. There are no instances of hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
The Cat Concerto (7:28, HD): the 1946 Oscar-winning animated short
Screen Guild Players Radio Broadcast (29:43): radio adaptation of the film with Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, and Claude Jarman, Jr.
Theatrical Trailer (1:01, HD)
Noted for his delicate handling of sensitive material (little wonder he was Garbo’s favorite director), Clarence Brown’s The Yearling makes its high definition disc debut in a stunningly beautiful Blu-ray disc from Warner Archive that comes with the highest recommendation!
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