Updated: Jul 25
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Gregory Peck plays homesteader Ezra “Penny” Baxter and his son Jody, played by newcomer Claude Jarman Jr., as they pursue a wild bear, nicknamed “Old Slewfoot,” that attacked the family calf and shoat.
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“THE YEARLING” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray; 1946; G, approved for all audiences
Best extra: "Cat Concerto," a Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoon, (Oscar winner for best cartoon, 1946)
LIFE IS GOOD, but it’s hard.
Most people learn this on their way to adulthood. Not too many learn that lesson as traumatically as young Jody (a sparkling Claude Jarman Jr.) in the newly remastered “The Yearling” based on the book by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It was the No. 1 book in 1938, and won a Pulitzer Prize. The script was written by Paul Osborn, who also adapted screenplays for “East of Eden” and “Sayonara,” both for 1955 release.
Ezra “Penny” Baxter (a young Gregory Peck in fine, fatherly form) leaves the Civil War and takes a river journey deep into the Florida scrublands, establishing a homestead farm among the mangroves, Spanish moss and oddball characters populating the area. With him is his wife, Orry Baxter (a taciturn Jane Wyman), silently grieving the loss of three of her four children. She’s unwilling to invest a lot emotionally in her fourth, Jody.
Relentlessly optimistic, hardworking Penny Baxter is the “good cop,” enjoying his son’s enthusiasms and flights of fancy as they both work the fields and roam the woods of the scrublands. A dour Orry keeps everyone tethered to grim reality – and grim it is. The stakes are nothing less than life or death. If the crops fail, these people will starve to death.
(1) “The Yearling” premiered in Los Angeles on December 18, 1946, and opened in New York on January 23, 1947. (2) Filming took nearly a year, with much of the MGM production in the Ocala National Forest in Central Florida. (3&4) Eleven-year-old Jody relaxes along a creek and marvels at the wildlife. (4) Jane Wyman plays Orry Baxter, who’s still grieving the premature deaths of three of their children. (5) Penny arrives back at the house after a long day of logging, and Jody shows up after playing in the glen. (6) Jody can’t sleep, asking questions about a raccoon.
The set-up is easily a third of the film before we meet Flag, a fawn Jody adopts after he and his father slaughter the mother. While in the woods tracking the thieves who stole the Baxter’s hogs, Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake. The heart and liver of a freshly slaughtered deer are needed to make a poultice to draw the poison. Penny recovers and Jody reminds him of the orphaned fawn whose mother is responsible for saving his life. Jody goes out into the woods and rescues the little fawn – and thus starts a really harsh lesson.
Sharp and clear as crystal, Warner Archive scanned the original three-strip Technicolor negative in 4K (1.37:1 aspect ratio) and then used the studio’s innovative realignment software to readjust every single frame. For decades previous editions were plagued with colors out of alignment.
I would have to say that if you’ve led a good life and done well to your fellow man, the place you end up in the Hereafter will be shot by Arthur Arling, Charles Rosher, and Leonard Smith, the cinematographers who won the Oscar for “The Yearling” – and yes, it would be in Technicolor.
Filmed on location in Florida, and in California’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino National Forest, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, the presentation follows the usual WAC standards: rich, saturated color; solid blacks laying the groundwork for excellent depth and contrast; and fine detail in close-ups and wide-shots. Background detail hits new heights, and film grain is consistent throughout.
“The Yearling” was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Clarence Brown, and won three.
(1) Jody and his Pa visit their neighbors, the Forrester family, as Jody talks with their youngest son Fodderwing. (2) Ma and Pa Forrester played by Margaret Wycherly and Clem Bevans. (3&4) Penny trades his hound for a double-barrel shotgun.
Gregory Peck could deliver dialogue through a fog of static – but he doesn’t have to. Sound from the DTS HD-Master Audio 1.0 track is perfect in a dialogue-driven film. Gunshots and a fistfight add solid bass and depth. Herbert Stothart’s musical score, derived from themes of Frederick Delius, another Everglades resident, is lilting and fits perfectly with the proceedings without overwhelming them.
Find time for the thirty-minute audio bonus of “The Screen Guild Players” broadcast of “The Yearling” starring Peck, Wyman and Jarman. I was happy to hear a familiar voice announcing “The Screen Guild Players” – Truman Bradley. Remember “Science Fiction Theater?” The one and only!
The Tom and Jerry cartoon has also apparently received the Warner Magic polish. It looks and sounds every bit as good as it must-have when it came out in 1946.
A word or two about young master Jarman; he strikes the perfect chord in this film, showing a range of emotion that would have been challenging to most adults, let alone someone his age. He rightly received a special Juvenile Oscar for his work.
Later on, he’d appear in one of my personal favorites, “Intruder in the Dust” (1950), a cracking good mystery and a fairly unsentimental look at race in Mississippi in the middle of the 20th century. The same year he played alongside John Wayne in John Ford’s western “Rio Grande,” while performing his own horse stunts.
Jarman’s acting career tapered off and he went to Vanderbilt, getting his degree. He served in the U.S. Navy as a public affairs officer, then went on to run The San Francisco International Film festival for a number of years.
Also, should you happen to run across a little gem from 1983 called “Cross Creek” you might want to invest an hour and a half or so. It stars Mary Steenburgen as Rawlings and gives a charming and engrossing, if slightly fictionalized look, at how she came to be published.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) The Technicolor restoration is so clear you can tell a stand-in actress was used instead of Jane Wyman for the exterior shot. (2) Jody, Ma Baxter, the doctor, and several of the Forrester brothers watch over Penny in a “Norman Rockwell” composition, as he recovers from the rattlesnake bite. (3) Jody finds the orphaned fawn whose mother was responsible for saving his Pa’s life.
(1) Jody and his new companion “Flag” the fawn. (2) Jody says goodbye to his friend Fodderwing who suddenly dies. (3&4) Ten days of rain ruin the crops, and Jody and Pa replant the fields.
(1) Flag has become a yearling and his time at the Baxter Island farm is coming to an end. (2-4) Jody returns home after running away. “Boy, we near about give you out. You all right?” says Pa. “You ain’t dead and a-gone. All right. Glory be...Your Ma has been searching for three days. She ain’t done nothing else.”