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Warner Home Video presents
"How you think we can spare rations for some critter when it's all we can do as keep our own bellies full?"
DVD ReviewThere's no reason The Yearling should work as well as it does. It's full of all the ingredients needed to make a manipulative, weepy, and melodramatic family film—the characters are all plain, uneducated-but-wise country folk; there's an oversensitive boy and his hard-edged mother; a father who wants to shield his son from the harsh realities of life; and a cute little woodland creature, the medium by which many life lessons will be transmitted. But where Old Yeller was content with being a moving but inconsequential ode to the bond between boy and dog, The Yearling aims higher. The boy's time with the title animal offers not just a simple lesson of friendship, but an understanding of the harsh realities of the world—the vast differences between boyhood and manhood.
The young boy is Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.). He lives in the marshy wilds of the Florida swamplands with his father Penny (Gregory Peck) and Ma (Jane Wyman). Penny battles with the land, determined to eke out a living for his family even as his health is being destroyed. Ma is emotionally despondent, her spirit broken by the loss of several children in childbirth. She treats Jody harshly, trying to force him to grow up quickly (though Jody believes that, at 10, he's "way past the age of dyin'."). Jody, meanwhile, is oblivious, trapped in the magical, invincible mindset of youth. The family faces off against their antagonistic neighbors, the Forresters, and deal with animal attacks—a bear stalking local farm animals, a snake that bites Penny, but it's all an adventure for Jody. When he finds an orphaned fawn in the woods (its mother killed by that same bear), he begs his parents to let him keep it, and his father agrees, over objections from his mother. But the animal is wild, and its behavior destructive—clearly, it can't stay with the family.
Jody's relationship with the fawn (a "yearling," or an animal that's just a year old) forms the core of the film. Director Clarence Brown, a veteran director from the days of silent film, is able to coax a marvelously genuine performance from the boy. His big emotional outbursts don't feel rehearsed, even by today's standards, and that's something, considering the retrospectively goofy acting in some films from the 1940s. Jody is a sensitive kid; rarely does he shy away from showing his emotions or worry about "being a man" (in fact, his father encourages him, indulging his youthful fantasies in allowing him to keep the yearling). Peck is wonderful as well, and he, too, is remarkably vulnerable as a heroic father figure, his health damaged by something as innocuous as a hernia. Jane Wyman's Ma is likewise unique, taking on the man's role in raising her boy, eager for him to grow up and grow strong, even if it means losing his innocence.
Like many films about hardworking frontier folk, The Yearling idolizes the idyllic, connected-to-nature lifestyle, but Brown also is clear to show their poverty, their ramshackle house and meager food supply. Brown is also quite adept at showing off the gorgeous natural surroundings, taking full advantage of his Technicolor camera. The scenes of the harsh side of the family's life do well to undercut the film's weepy sentimentality. We know what's at stake for Jody in losing the animal, and in growing up too fast—what he has to face—even as Brown pretties it up with rich colors and frequent shots of the area's natural beauty.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: For the most part, this transfer retains its original Technicolor brilliance. Colors are rich and lush, and blacks are nice and solid. Fine detail is fairly good, with softness typical of many films of the era. Grain is apparent, but always appears quite natural and film like. I noted no artifacts or aliasing. In fact, the only fault I could find was in a few scenes in which color balance looked off, resulting in unnatural fleshtones.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in the original mono, and it sounds quite nice. Dialogue is always clear, and sounds quite natural, though Jody's higher-pitched tones sometimes sound a bit harsh and rough. The score features decent fidelity, and sound effects are reproduced nicely, creating spatial presence even within the confines of a mono mix. Background hiss is unobtrusive, but audible at times.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
The back of the box promises an "interactive adventure" with Jody's World, but it's just a few pages of bland production notes about how many boys auditioned for the role and how many costumes were created for the movie. Separate pages list awards won and the cast (no filmographies or bios, though). Finally, there's a trailer for the feature and spots for The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsThe Yearling is a near-perfect family film, and a classic on par with Old Yeller. Warner's DVD is well worth picking up for the gorgeous Technicolor transfer alone.
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