When I think of Florida, I usually think of sandy beaches, the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, seafood, Disney World, vacation time! My movie pick recommendation for this weekend shows another side of Florida: MGM’s The Yearling, a technicolor masterpiece from 1947. This movie was based upon Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel, which was published in 1938 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Novel in 1939. Rawlings lived in Central Florida and wrote a touching story about a boy and his parents, living near New Lake George, Florida, in 1878.
The film was directed by Clarence Brown, produced by Sidney Franklin, and starred Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, and Claude Jarmin, Jr. Gregory Peck plays the part of Ezra Baxter, veteran of the Confederate Army, trying to eke out a living on his central Florida farm. He has one son, Jody, played by Claude Jarman, Jr., whom he loves very much, and tries to teach his son how to farm and hunt. Jody, for his part, loves to be outdoors observing the Nature around him, and he clearly loves his Pa. Ora Baxter, or Ma, played by Jane Wyman, is not as loving to her son as she should be. She is an efficient homemaker but is often grouchy and gruff towards her husband and especially her son. As the movie unfolds, the reason for Ma’s coldness will be revealed.
There is another family in the film, the Forresters, whom Pa Baxter feuds with. Jody, despite the feud, is best friends with the Forresters youngest son, Fodderwing, an invalid who loves animals. One day as Jody and Pa are out searching for their stolen pigs-the Forresters had stolen them-Pa is bitten by a rattlesnake. Jody knows that a deer’s liver will draw out the poison and he finds a deer nearby and kills it, successfully getting the animal’s liver to his Pa, and the poison is dealt with, Pa survives. He and Jody soon discover that the dead deer was a doe, that she had a fawn so they begin searching the nearby scrub forest and Jody finds it. Jody has longed for a pet, to which his Ma has always said no. Survival is keen on Ma’s mind and she has always said a pet just takes food away from the family. Pa convinces her to allow them to let Jody raise the fawn for one year, then he tells Jody that at the end of that one year when the fawn will be a yearling, that Jody will have to return the fawn back into the wild. Jody is ecstatic at finally having a pet and agrees to his Pa’s plan. The fawn is soon named Flag, due to how a white-tailed deer’s tail stands up like a flag when it runs. All seems to be going well with raising this deer, Jody is enjoying being a pet owner. However, the year passes quickly by and a problem develops, that threatens the family’s survival; their corn crop is providing too much temptation for Flag.
I won’t reveal much more of the movie’s plot, but I will say it is a moving film so have kleenaxes at the ready! At the Academy Awards for 1947, The Yearling won Best Art Direction-Color, Best Cinematography-Color; the scene where Jody finds the fawn is lush and gorgeous to view! The Yearling was nominated for but didn’t win : Best Actor, Gregory Peck, Best Actress, Jane Wyman, Best Director, Clarence Brown, Best Film Editor, and Best Picture. Claude Jarvin Jr. did win a special Juvenile Performance Oscar for his efforts portraying Jody.
Gregory Peck looks so young in this movie. He does a passable southern accent, but his portrayal is focused on being the loving husband and father to his wife and son. He portrays that very well, and is very patient towards his wife, trying to be the buffer for his son, to protect him from Ma’s coldness. Jane Wyman gives an outstanding performance as Ma. In the beginning of the film, the viewer won’t like her, but as the story unfolds, one will realize why she has steeled herself from showing her son any affection. Her character will go through a monumental change and it’s good to view it. Claude Jarvin Jr. is pitch-perfect as Jody. A boy of 11 or so, wide-eyed and in love with Nature. He is an obedient son, clearly loves his Pa, and tries to not burden his Ma with his activities. The cast is rounded out with character actors Chill Wills, Henry Travers(he most famously known as the angel, Clarence, trying to earn his wings by helping Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life), and Forrest Tucker.
The Yearling is truly one of the best family films ever made. It’s a tender story about love, growing up, and responsiblities. The movie is peppered with heartfelt, believable performances by the entire cast, shot in gorgeous technicolor.