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Masterful family saga in all its Technicolored glory 4.5 Stars

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 Yearling (1946)
Released: 01 May 1947
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 128 min
Director: Clarence Brown
Genre: Drama, Family, Western
Cast: Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman Jr., Chill Wills
Writer(s): Paul Osborn (screen play), Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (based on the Pulitzer Prize novel by)
Plot: A boy persuades his parents to allow him to adopt a young deer, but what will happen if the deer misbehaves?
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: 89

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 05/11/2021
MSRP: $21.99

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.

Video: 5/5

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.

Audio: 5/5

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)

Overall: 4.5/5

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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Published by

Matt Hough

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Joel Arndt

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Thanks for another wonderful review Matt. I just placed my order through the HTF link. Really looking forward to receiving this.
Great review, Matt! I've somehow never seen The Yearling, and it seems that this stunning Blu-ray release from the Warner Archive Collection is the ideal opportunity for me to fix that!
Andy, I don't believe you'd be disappointed. This is an absolutely beautiful film in so many ways and well deserving of its Best Picture Oscar nomination.
 

moviepas

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The film was originally planned as a B&W film around 1939 with a different cast. Never happened then.
 

Matt Hough

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And they did three weeks of location work in Florida in 1941 with Spencer Tracy and Anne Revere as the parents and Victor Fleming directing, but the weather and insect infestations were so bad that the film was abandoned. Revere said she didn't remember shooting any actual footage there herself before it was abandoned. Neither she nor Peck were great fans of the finished product. Both thought it was too pretty and not tough enough.
 

Radioman970

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just load the deer in the wagon, drive far away, let the deer go. All is well. lol

oh I love this damn movie and will absolutely buy this disc but.... that always bugs me. :D
 

Matt Hough

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Just finished watching this and this looks stunning! Another in a long line of triumphs for WBMPI. And, of course, I cried like an idiot all over again.
I bubbled up on two separate occasions watching this during the review. Ugly crying, and I just couldn't help myself.
 

Joel Arndt

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I bubbled up on two separate occasions watching this during the review. Ugly crying, and I just couldn't help myself.
Matt, I'm with you on that. This doesn't happen to me with newer movies, only the older ones. I think it's a combination of script, the style of acting, the way they were filmed and the gorgeous musical scoring, of course, that brings out that sentimentality in me. These filmmakers really knew how to tap into human emotions and they did it beautifully.
 

benbess

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For decades I avoided The Yearling, supposing incorrectly that it was an excessively sweet and simple story of a kid who adopts a pet. But the excellent review above finally changed my mind. Matt H. writes:

"....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....

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....Donn Gift gives a moving performance as the crippled Forrester child Fodderwing who is Jody’s only similarly-aged friend."


Anyway, I finally got this new blu-ray a month or so ago, and last night I put it in for what I thought would be some light entertainment. The beauty of the Oscar-winning cinematography immediately comes through in this stunning release, as Gregory Peck's voice narrates for you where they are and what's happening. The peculiar vocabulary and turns of phrase found throughout the movie were taken from Majorie Kinnan Rawling's award-winning book, based on research that she did while living many years in the area she was writing about. Here's an example that seems to be the same in the novel and in the movie as Penny talks with his son Jody:

"You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks...Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy....I've been uneasy all my life. I've wanted life to be easy for you. Easier'n 'twas for me. A man's heart aches, seein' his young uns face the world. Knowin' they got to get their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could."

I mainly watch movies for entertainment, but sometimes find bits of wisdom here and there. Anyway, this movie has lots of beauty, and episodic adventures and misadventures, but there's also some poignant wisdom to be found.

The extensive footage in actual Florida locations is expertly combined with footage of vast exterior sets filmed on soundstages. Before I watched the movie I was surprised to see in wikipedia that it ended up costing almost $4 million in 1946, making it one of the most expensive movies of the 1940s. I can imagine that other studios would have made this for much less money, but MGM pulled out all the stops to make this rural epic, and the movie ended up being a huge hit that was profitable.

Anyway, for anyone on the fence about this blu-ray, it's another reference quality three-strip Technicolor movie. Both the movie and the picture quality are excellent, but keep some Kleenex handy.

The Yearling is now tied with Notorious and Great Expectations for my three favorite movies of 1946, and of course that year also had The Best Years of Our Lives, The Razor's Edge, It's a Wonderful Life, My Darling Clementine, The Big Sleep, Dragonwyck, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Harvey Girls, Anna and the King of Siam, etc.

Clarence Brown directed all three of these favorites: The Rains Came, National Velvet, and The Yearling. Here's hoping some of his other movies come to blu-ray as well.

Oh, and the music in The Yearling is by the Oscar-winner for The Wizard of Oz, Herbert Stothart, in one of his very last scores.





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Joel Arndt

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Beautiful write-up Ben. My first viewing of this remarkable film was on the big screen in the early 70s when MGM was rereleasing their "family" films under the MGM Children's Matinee banner. I loved it then and through a child's eyes probably just saw it as a boy and his pet film, but upon subsequent viewings as I got older I realized how deep and meaningful The Yearling is.

Older films get to me in ways that modern ones don't. Sentimentality somehow seems forced in newer movies. I think it was a combination of the acting, screenplay, cinematography, scoring, etc. that worked so well to evoke a mood and they all combine to work very well here. And, yes, keep those Kleenex handy.
 

benbess

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After watching the movie I got curious about the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She was born and grew up in DC, went to university in Wisconsin, lived and worked in Louisville and Rochester, and only after all that did she move to rural Florida.


The place where she lived is now a historic state park with a house museum and a walking trail. She donated her land and much of her estate to the state university nearby.


In 1983 Martin Ritt directed a movie for Universal based on Rawlings' memoir Cross Creek, starring Mary Steenburgen. It got mostly good reviews, and was nominated for four Academy Awards, but was a box office disappointment.

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benbess

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In 2018 Claude Jarman Jr. wrote a short memoir about his years in Hollywood. I haven't yet read it, but it got good reviews. And below is a photo from a few years ago of him holding his Academy Award for The Yearling. He certainly worked like heck on that movie, including some scenes running barefoot across those forests in Florida.


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