Airing on TCM November 30 at 4 PM EST
You could call “The Yearling” the original “Old Yeller”. Based on a book by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the story is about a farm family living in rural Florida in the 1870s. There’s Ezra “Penny” Baxter (Gregory Peck), the father; Ora (Jane Wyman), the mother; and their young son, Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.). Penny and Jody are incredibly close, but Ora remains largely distant and cold toward her son, devastated by the death of her three previous children. Without any siblings to play with, Jody is lonely. When he has to kill a deer to help save his father after a rattlesnake bites him, Jody convinces his parents to let him raise the deer’s fawn. He names the fawn Flag, and the two are soon inseparable, but as Flag gets older, it starts to cause problems on the farm.
MGM, known for making heart-warming family films such as this, began developing a film adaptation of this story in 1941. They even began shooting it with Victor Fleming directing and Spencer Tracy playing Penny, but several complications, including Fleming butting heads with the producer, caused production to cease, especially as the U.S. headed into World War II. But when filming began anew after the war, with a fresh cast and Clarence Brown directing, many of the outdoor atmosphere and animal scenes that were already shot in 1941 were recycled for the new production. Those scenes are quite lovely; they were shot on location in the Ocala National Forest in Florida, and some scenes were even shot in and around the Rawlings Cross Creek homestead where she wrote the novel. Even more impressive is the amount of trained animals used in the movie; the list includes bears, dogs, horses, snakes, pigs, birds, raccoons, squirrels, and over 120 deer.
“The Yearling” was MGM’s most successful film of 1946, and it was nominated for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture and acting honors for Peck and Wyman. The cast is excellent, including Peck in only his fourth feature film role playing the wisdom-spouting father—the type of role he would ultimately become most famous for playing. Jarman, Jr., who only appeared in a handful of films following this one, won the role out of 19,000 boys who auditioned, and he’s convincing as the innocent boy who comes of age as the film progresses. In the end, the story isn’t really about the boy and his deer at all, but rather the changes the deer brings about in the whole family.
For more info, feel free to email me. For updates on my latest articles, click the subscribe button at the top of this page. You can also follow me on the following websites: