A young boy persuades his homesteader parents to let
him adopt a baby deer, with disastrous results for their crops.
The Yearling (1946)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Paul Osborn
Starring Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman Jr., Chill Wills, Clem Bevans, Margaret Wycherly, Henry Travers, Forrest Tucker
Based on the novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Oscar Wins - Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Actor (Gregory Peck),
Best Actress (Jane Wyman), Best Director, Best Film Editing
If you want to understand exactly how mind-numbingly boring this movie is, the deer doesn't even show up until the one-hour point. Up to then, we've been watching Ma and Pa bicker, and Junior learn obvious life lessons in the woods in post-Civil War Florida. Ultimately, it's a film about how we're all forced to put away childish things and grow up. That's all nice and neat, but does it need to take two hours of bad parenting and animal cruelty to get us to that not at all surprisingly moral lesson? I'm also starting to think Gregory Peck only had one facial expression, and Jane Wyman loses a lot of her likability by playing the world's most angry, selfish, bitterly jealous mother of the year. And don't even get me started on whiny little Jody.
Jody (Jarman Jr.) finds a baby deer in the woods after Pa kills his mother. He begs to keep it, and it becomes his pet. Pa thinks it's good for Jody to have some responsibility. Ma seems to think the deer is replacing her or something, because she angrily hates that deer from day one, and ultimately ends up blowing its brains out by "accident" at the film's end. The whole time, we see the deer (whose name is Flag) just nip at their crops and wreck their tobacco plants. No shit. It's a deer. The film is such a dull slog that I found myself just not caring about the harvest or any of these characters' missing arcs.
Somehow, this film made a splash at the Oscars, winning two technical awards on seven nominations, including Best Picture. I'm sure there were better, more-deserving films that came out that year. In the end, Jody's deer is maimed by his mother, and Jody is forced to finish the job. He runs away in hatred of his parents, then comes home because he's hungry. They never apologize for killing his only friend, and life goes on. What a brutally harsh way for kids to realize they have to grow up.