The Yearling is a great movie about how your parents hate your pets. So much of kid literature from the first half of the 20th Century was about how having a pet in modern suburbia was a privilege. They did this by showing how animals died, were a burden or got people hurt all the time in 19th century America. Plus, The Yearling was the last time that Florida people came across respectable in the 20th Century. So, thanks mass media.
Kids and animals go together like fried food and cheese. You love them, but they’re going to kill you one day. Gregory Peck plays Penny Baxter and he’s an ex soldier that loves his family. Meanwhile, Jane Wyman plays his traumatized wife who has pulled away from her family. She’s lost most of her kids and is scared of getting connected with little Jody. Meanwhile, Jody wonders why his mom hates him and why his dad isn’t that loving.
What’s fun is learning a few things about The Yearling after not seeing it for 20 years. Penny Baxter was an ex-confederate soldier who lived in the Florida wilderness in the decade after the Civil War. He’s a good man that is making his way among the backwoods folk, but everything is hard. The bear known as Old Slewfoot is destroying his farm and livelihood. Among that, he can’t afford to keep things on the farm that aren’t working.
Meanwhile, his kid is getting all emotional and mopey until he discovers The Yearling. It’s a tiny fawn named Flag, that Penny lets him keep until he gets to be a problem. Eventually, the dad gets bit by a snake and the Yearling becomes a farm problem. What follows is a series of fun shotgun adventures that results in the mother and son relationship getting strained further.
There is something about this romanticism of 19th Century life as Post World War II baby boom and suburban rise took off. The further people went into cookie cutter living, the more they experience a deep desire for pastoral living. It was crazy, but it turned into something that said a lot about where America’s mind was at the time. But, almost all of these movies turned into seemingly punitive looks at life.
The Yearling is an old fashioned lesson to be shared to young people about responsibility. While there are some touchpoints to how parents handle kids, that part is treated with kid gloves. This film is mainly about how life is hard and you have to grow up fast or get consumed. For a film arriving shortly after World War II, it’s not hard to see why this connected with parents with military ties. They had seen the horrors of War and now were returning to a joyous nation getting a little soft.
Claude Jarman Jr won an Honorary Oscar for his film debut in The Yearling. But, so much of the film belongs to the Oscar nominated performances from Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. It’s rare to show two parents in a story like this repelling each other and damaging their kid’s worldview. While they eventually get back together for the sake of the family, it’s compelling to see parents acting like real world parents instead of Old Hollywood types.
Warner Archive brings The Yearling to Blu-ray with a handful of special features. You get the Screen Guild Players Radio broadcast in a rather pristine fashion. Plus, you get the period appropriate legendary cartoon The Cat Concerto. If that wasn’t enough, you also get a trailer. The A/V Quality is super sharp for a film of its age, but I wish the DTS-HD 1.0 mono track was louder at points. But, it’s period appropriate and works.