Of Mice and Men (1939)

Lon Chaney Jr., Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Charles Bickford,
A mentally disabled giant and his level headed guardian find work at a sadistic cowboy's ranch in depression era America.
  • 7.9 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • John Steinbeck, Eugene Solow, Writer:
  • Lewis Milestone, Director:
  • Producer:

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10 / 10

EXCELLENT CINEMA!

The first comment given here shows an incredible lack of understanding of Steinbeck in his California period. Our Irish friend's acrid comments show he obviously doesn't like Steinbeck and that's his privilege. Now, having said that, I must say he's wrong. This film is excellent. Just that. The cast is wonderful and the story is a classic: the destruction of innocence by cruel reality (viz: the title of the story taken from a line from a Robert Burns's poem). And, while Steinbeck was not one to let a sentimental moment pass by, e.g, Lennie's Christ-like innocence, inappropriate super-human strength which inadvertently wreaks havoc resulting in his euthanasia with the same instrument as used for Curley's dog, these scenes are never maudlin. Too, for the serious Steinbeck fan, there's more, much more. This story, and the play, created at Steinbeck's most experimental period, is fraught with symbolism. There's the "big" guy, a victim of the "little" guy's vanity. Many are not aware that Steinbeck was small (5'3") and very self-conscious about his size. The cast is outstanding: Betty Field's careless and bored character, Mae contrasts with the mighty innocence of Chaney's Lennie. There are the solid characters of Bickford's Slim, Meredith's George and Bohnen's Candy; Steele was at his best as the vain, pugnacious Curley; Veteran character actor, Noah Berry Jr. as Whit adds another element of sympathy. This is one of our American classic films. We invented and developed this genre of art and this film must stand as one of its finest examples.

9 / 10

It's amazing that such a small studio made such a wonderful film.

It's amazing that a film as good as this one came from a small studio like Hal Roach. Sure, they released many of their films through MGM but they were tiny and specialized in short comedies with the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase and The Little Rascals--but they were not known for dramas. Well, starting in the late 1930s, the studio tried their hand at such fare and in some cases did some lovely films--and "Of Mice and Men" is the best example of these new dramas.

As far as the story goes, it's much like the book and play---but with a few changes to meet the tough Production Code. The language was toned down--with swearing removed. Also, the film made a few minor changes in the play--but not many. What you see is essentially the Steinbeck story--and the studio trusted the source material enough to stick with it. They also should be applauded for picking two relative unknowns to star in the film--Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr..

Overall, the film is a smashing success. The acting is very good, the direction also nice and the film kept me on the edge of my seat. The only negative, and it's very, very, very minor, is that a few of the scenes looked very much like they were filmed on a set. Still, it's one of the best films of the year and had it not come out in 1939 (the same year as "Gone With The Wind", "The Wizard of Oz", "Goodby Mr. Chips", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and many other great films), it might have taken home some Oscars. Well worth seeing and a great example of a film made very well on a relatively small budget.

7 / 10

Of Mice and Men

Excellent screen adaptation of the John Steinbeck classic about two drifters in the Depression who move from ranch to ranch in search of work. Perfect pairing of Meredith and Chaney (his finest screen performance) as George and Lennie. In a year of great classic movies, it should be no surprise that this film falls into that category as well. Oscar nominated for the Best Picture of 1939.

9 / 10

The Gentle Giant

Of Mice And Men must have been a particular favorite of John Steinbeck and his work. It's not The Grapes Of Wrath and its exploration of great social issues. It's rather a human study, the kind of migrant workers whom the Joads joined are shown in a small setting at a California ranch.

The two main characters are the gentle and slow giant Lennie Small as played by Lon Chaney, Jr. and his friend and guardian George Milton played by Burgess Meredith. The Mutt&Jeff contrast between Lennie and George shows just how much Lennie is dependent on George for even the simplest of necessities. The old adage about not having enough sense to come out of the rain is literally true in his case.

The weakness of Lennie is that he is very slow to anger, but when he does you don't want to be in his way. Secondly, he really does not know his own strength and that leads to tragedy.

Of Mice And Men after the novel was adapted by Steinbeck into a play ran for 207 performances on Broadway in the 1936-37 season. It starred Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie. Crawford would have to wait another decade to get a big starring role in film with All The King's Men. Chaney however is a revelation. For most of his career he did supporting roles to various stars and horror films to capitalize on his father's name. This was his biggest role, I can't call it a career role because no career came from it for him. But he will move you in this part.

B movie cowboy Bob Steele plays the punk son of the ranch owner and Betty Field his tramp of a wife. Steele next to Chaney is the one to watch. He invests the part with a lot of hidden dimensions. This is a man who definitely has issues. Steele and Field are the cause of the tragedy that befalls the gentle giant.

The only actor carried over from Broadway is Leigh Whipper who plays one of the other ranch hands. His part is highly unusual for a black actor of the time. He's a bitter man not allowed to socialize with the other hands on the place and his bitterness permeates Meredith and Chaney. A very good job by Whipper.

Of Mice And Men got four Oscar nominations in that year of Gone With The Wind. Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Music and Best Scoring of Music for Aaron Copland. Of course the budgets of Gone With The Wind and Of Mice And Men are from two different universes. That would include the publicity budget for Oscar time.

Still Of Mice And Men holds up every bit as good as its more expensive rival. A literary and a cinema classic, that can't be beat.

7 / 10

Hits You Like a Gut Punch

This screen adaptation of the John Steinbeck classic novel is a harsh, fantastic film that took the wind out of me with its frank and brutal depiction of desperation and longing. Movies about the Depression that were actually made at the time of the Depression by people who knew of what they spoke by necessity feel so much more authentic than later movies that treat the Depression as a historical event. The men in this film are quite literally living day to day, and the comparison of men to dogs that serves as a running motif throughout the film feels like more than just a poetic device. Like dogs, these men were faced with the scary prospect of some day being of no more use, and there was no system in place to take care of them when that day came. Being shot like a dog put out of its misery by its owner really was preferable to the alternatives awaiting them.

I was surprised about how candid this film was, and how bravely it tackled some of the thornier issues of Steinbeck's novel. The incident between Lenny and Mae is divested of some of its sexual overtones, but much is implied anyway. And a scene between Crooks, a black work hand, and some of the other workers, in which Crooks explains in blunt language what it means to be black, tackles race relations as honestly as many films today.

Moments of this film are almost unbearably sad and poignant, but never in that over-sentimental way common to Hollywood films of this time period. Burgess Meredith is terrific in the role of George; he expertly conveys--without ever directly addressing it--the bond he has with Lenny and the degree to which Lenny is as much George's savior as he is Lenny's. Charles Bickford is also excellent as a rough and world-weary worker. The cast's weak links are Betty Field--hopelessly overplaying her bored sex kitten--and Lon Chaney as Lenny, though both are very good in the pivotal scene that sets off the action of the film's finale.

John Ford's adaptation of "The Grapes of Wrath" from the following year gets all of the attention today, and one hardly ever hears of "Of Mice and Men." But much of what is great about Ford's film is also great about Lewis Milestone's, and he deserves credit for laying a fine blueprint for brining Steinbeck's beautiful and heartbreaking stories to the screen.

Grade: A