“Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond” is a treasure trove covering most all genres imaginable, cartoons, shorts, industrial promos, live presentations and even screen tests. This “100th anniversary [surprise!] celebration of Technicolor” runs two months at the Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with counterpart cinema institutions in Berlin and Vienna.
The Yearling is among the titles less seen nowadays and more faded from memory despite its Pulitzer Prize-winning source book, two Oscars plus one honorary statuette and five other, unsuccessful nominations. The 35mm 1946 color now looks skewed even if effective in exaggerated blues, reds and yellows; the over-orchestrated score is Hollywood Heavenly Choir sentiment, and the dialogue hokey (though less so than a cloying TV remake forty-eight years later) and lacking Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ feel for regional speech; and, a couple dirt smears aside, these Florida swamp farmers are squeaky clean.
The saving grace is the relationship between Jody Baxter and his father Ezra Ezekial, who for his short wiry build is never called anything but “Penny.” Tall broad Gregory Peck is the patient understanding latter, and newcomer Claude Jarman, Jr., the boy going on twelve, very much a child then and not the sexualized pre-teen of today. In National Velvet two years before, director Clarence Brown had drawn similar innocence from Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney.
Six siblings in the novel reduced to a film three have been laid to rest on hardscrabble Baxter’s Island, reason aplenty for the crankiness of Ma, named Ory. Pa loves his stern unsmiling wife, but Jane Wyman is all wrong for the novel’s lumpy overweight lady who, unwittingly she claims, brings about the life-changing but inevitable dénouement.
Presumably from his own rite of passage, Pa knows that “a boy ain’t a boy for long” and therefore tries to shield his son at the same time that he instructs and ushers him into the painful lessons of adulthood, of life, and of “ol’ Death at his tricks.” Alone and sensitive to the domestic and wild creatures around them, of his own age Jody has only Fodder-wing Forrester (Donn Gift), who sees ghostly conquistadores among the Spanish moss and is a genius with animals but a slow cripple who had tried to fly with the birds.
From the book, the film retains but in reduced form a hunt for predator bear ol’ Slewfoot, the Southern tall tale one-upsmanship dog swap, the near-fatal rattler bite, a free-for-all with the Forrester boys (Forest Tucker, Chill Wills, Matt Willis) over a much-cut Oliver’s return and wooing of a lass named Twink, and the eight-day torrential rain and flooding.
Still, the outside is here less developed than in the book, e.g., Grandma Hutto. Thus greater screen emphasis can be placed on the newborn white-spotted fawn, orphaned when an accident necessitates the killing of its dam. Against Ma’s protests, with Pa’s misgivings but indulgence, Jody raises the fawn christened Fang by tragic Fodder-wing. In spite of obvious scenes of boy and growing deer running against a rosy skyline, the relationship is handled with tenderness and taste.
The boy does not change physically although he will mature emotionally. But at its year, the animal is stronger in its natural impulses, more a creature of its own physical needs and impulses, and soon enough to look for a mate, as Pa observes though hoping that Jody can be spared suffering. The enchantment and innocence of childhood clash against the hard lesions of life, and of death, but fathers are there for sons, to ease the shock of transition. “”Boy, life goes back on you,’ [but] a man took it for his share and moved on.”
(Released by MGM Home Entertainment and rated "G" by MPAA.)