The Yearling

The Yearling (1946) Director: Clarence Brown

★★★☆☆

Like the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on which it is based, The Yearling is a decent movie. There are some beautiful technicolor scenes of the Florida scrublands (it was shot on location in Ocala National Forest) however the rural southern accents conveyed by Gregory Peck and other actors in the film are nothing short of poor. They are actually fairly distracting to the film. However, for his performance Gregory Peck was somehow nominated for his second of five Oscar nominations. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was hired as a consultant on the project and she scouted the shooting locations for them. The film was originally set to star Spencer Tracey with Victor Fleming as the director but a variety of changes unfolded in production. The story is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name: Click here to read my reflections on reading The Yearling.

The Yearling tells the coming of age tale of Jody Baxter (played by Claude Jarman Jr in his debut role) as he learns the ways of hunting and farming in the late 19th century in central Florida. His father is Ezra “Penny” Baxter (played by Gregory Peck) and his mother is a cold and austere woman named Ora Baxter (played by Jane Wyman, the first wife of the future President Ronald Reagan). The plot stays mostly true to the novel as we witness a year in the life of the Baxter family. Along the way Jody befriends a fawn named “Flag” but it becomes a nuisance to the farm crops. Ora tells Jody to kill Flag, but Jody merely takes Flag into the woods and tells him to run far away. Of course, Flag returns and Ora shoots the fawn with a shotgun, wounding him. This time, Jody puts Flag out of his misery. In response, Jody briefly runs away from home before returning to reconcile with his parents, especially his mother.

I did not care much for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s novel nor for the film version of the story, however if forced to choose I would make the rare move of preferring the film over the novel. The technicolor visuals and accompanying score are a triumph, though the acting simply strains credulity (despite Gregory Peck’s typically terrific acting).

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