The Yearling (1946)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Based on the 1938 novel The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Screenplay by Paul Osborn
Starring: Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman Jr.
Against his wife’s (Wyman) wishes, Penny Baxter (Peck) allows his son (Jarman Jr.) to adopt a young deer. The young boy’s joy turns into more complicated feelings when the deer begins causing trouble on the family farm.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Cross Creek) won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1938 novel The Yearling. It was one of the best-selling books of that year, as well as the following year. The novel was eventually adapted for this MGM production by Paul Osborn (Sayonara). By the time Clarence Brown (National Velvet) was chosen to direct this one, he had already received five Best Director nominations. This film would give him his sixth and final nod, setting the record for the most nominations in that category without a win. Gregory Peck (Gentleman’s Agreement), Jane Wyman (Magic Town), and Claude Jarman Jr. (Rio Grande) make up the central cast of this one. This film would earn a total of seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
This is an emotionally driven story from the very beginning. Jody is the child of people with very different outlooks on life. These differences set the tone for some of the great drama throughout the film. Each of the characters are complex and have unique traits. The different personalities also avoid some of the more common stereotypes that come with the setting.
In large part this is a story about the two distinctly different relationships Jody has with his parents. The father and son interactions are warm and loving. Between Jody and his mother things are dramatically more formal. While the household is loving, there is a sense of loss and sadness that sits just beneath the surface. This undercurrent eventually rises to the surface as the story reveals the motives of the characters. This is a somewhat predictable story at times, but the twists and turns keep the little surprises intact. Like all great screenplays, this one really finds a way to bring out powerful emotions.
Prior to The Yearling, Claude Jarman Jr. had never acted in front of a camera. He was discovered in an MGM talent search and cast alongside Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. Despite being inexperienced, the young actor’s performance is really outstanding. Jarman does a great job finding the right connection with Peck. Their father-son dynamic feels genuine throughout the film. Jarman also does a great job connecting with the emotions of his character without over-playing his role. He also connects with Wyman in a way that reflects the writing.
Gregory Peck was a great choice to play Penny Baxter in this one. He manages to bring out the characteristics of his character that help him fit into the setting. He also does a great job bringing out the loving nature of his role, as well as the hidden strength. His chemistry with Wyman helps their on-screen relationship feel honest and genuine, even in the rough moments. Wyman also does great work in this one. Her performance works like a counterbalance to the work done by Peck. She also allows the flaws of her character to stand out. Jane Wyman was nominated for Best Actress for her work in this one, and Peck earned a nod for Best Actor. Claude Jarman Jr. was also recognized by the Academy, earning a special award for Outstanding Child Actor.
This movie looks pretty great for something released in 1946. Charles Rosher, Leonard Smith, and Arthur E. Arling did a great job working together to create the Technicolor images that make this one look amazing. They would go on to share the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The movie also has nicely designed sets that bring the world of the story to life. The costuming also adds to the authenticity of the film. The editing helps to keep this one moving, although there are a few slower moments. In addition to cinematography, this one also took home the Best Production Design (Color) award. This one also benefits from solid sound design and a nice score.
This is a wonderful movie that has remained well-known for more than seven decades. While it might be easy to lump this one in with movies like Old Yeller, this is something very different. Few movies of this kind seem to dig as deep into the relationships of the characters like this one does. Fans of the stars should make sure they watch this one. (It’s also a good one to watch again.) I would also recommend this one to fans of great drama. I give this one 4.7 out of 5 stars.