(director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Paul Osborn/from the novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; cinematographers: Arthur Arling/Charles Rosher/Leonard Smith; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Frederick Delius/Herbert Stothart; cast: Gregory Peck (Pa Penny Baxter), Jane Wyman (Ma Orry Baxter), Claude Jarman, Jr. (Jody Baxter), Chill Wills (Buck Forrester), Clem Bevans (Pa Forrester), Margaret Wycherly (Ma Forrester), Forrest Tucker (Lem Forrester); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Franklin; Warner Home Video; 1946)

“A heart-warming 19th-century family drama about surviving in the Florida wilderness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heart-warming 19th-century family drama about surviving in the Florida wilderness. It was adapted from the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and is written by Paul Osborn. Director Clarence Brown (“The White Cliffs of Dover”/”Conquest”/”The Rains Came”) keeps it inspirational. It’s shot on location in Florida.

In the post-Civil War period, in 1878, pioneer farmer Penny Baxter (Gregory Peck) lays claim to scrubland in rural Florida and marries local village girl Orry (Jane Wyman). They raise on Baxter’s Island a son named Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.), and have a tough time getting by. The 12-year-old boy is in love with nature and yearns more than anything else to have a pet, like the neighbor’s kids. His somber and stern mom, haunted by the premature deaths of three children, is opposed because they can’t afford another mouth to feed. But the kind-hearted dad is sympathetic to his son’s request, and tries to gently talk to him about their tough situation. When Pa gets bitten by a rattler and must kill a doe to use its organs to release the venom, the boy clamors to keep the doe’s fawn as a pet. This time his parents agree. The lonely boy and the deer become inseparable. But the yearling grows up fast and tramples the tobacco shoots and eats the corn. His parents have seconds thoughts, and the youngster must now learn to live with the harsh realities of life as he must shoot the deer.

The winsome coming-of-age drama was both a critical and commercial success. The Yearling grossed over $5.2 million upon its theater release. It features a really fine performance by newcomer Jarman, but on the negative side it hits all the emotional clichés on cue and was too manipulative for me not to point out that it comes recommended but with some reservations.

The Yearling Poster