57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2005
John Steinbeck's masterful story of friendship is definitively brought to screen in Lewis Milestone's 1939 OF MICE AND MEN. This is a terrific movie, essential viewing for anyone with a tolerance for black and white. The story is so universal and cleanly told this one is hard not to become deeply engrossed in.
Lon Chaney Jr., rightfully, is the chief reason we remember this movie. He nails the role of the feeble-minded Lennie, who wants nothing more than to tend his rabbits. I've never seen this movie before, and I was surprised at how effective Burgess Meredith was as Lennie's friend and protector, George. If Chaney steals most of the scenes he's in, Meredith is the reliable engine, grounded in humanity, that draws us in.
OF MICE AND MEN has been remade once, in 1992, in a production starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. For all of Malkovich's talents, I still prefer Chaney's performance. More importantly, the 1939 production was contemporaneous with Steinbeck's novel. If the latter movie is a period piece, the 1939 version is current events, and that does make a difference.
Get out the hankies and get ready to be deeply moved. An essential movie.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2001
The greatest year ever for the movies was undoubtedly 1939. Of Mice and Men was a member of the class of '39 and was also one of the ten films to be nominated for best picture that year. Competing against Gone With the Wind it had little chance of winning, but merely to be nominated that year was an achievement. Of Mice and Men is one of the great films and one of the best adaptations of a novel. Only The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden can compete with it as an adaptation of Steinbeck. The film is not as well known as it ought to be, which is a pity as it has a deeply felt story and some superb performances. It really shows the hardships of being a poor farmhand in depression era America and includes many details which give the setting authenticity. Burgess Meredith is wonderful as George while Lon Chaney Junior is a revelation as Lennie. Chaney is probably best known for his horror roles as The Wolf Man, but these roles don't really show his acting ability. Only in his brief role in High Noon does he show the acting ability that is so clearly evident from his performance in Of Mice and Men. George and Lennie's friendship and interdependence forms the heart of the film, but the film is also about loneliness. This is especially shown with regard to two characters, Crooks played by Leigh Whipper, who is excluded from the rest of the workers because of the colour of his skin, and Mae played by Betty Field, whose jealous husband wont allow her to talk to anyone. Field had a great acting talent and her film roles are very distinctive. Here she shows the loneliness and desperation for human contact of a woman who has married the wrong man. It is her search for some warmth that leads her to Lennie and this has unforeseen consequences for everyone. Both Lennie and Mae are unconscious of their actions, they can't see ahead and thus both are like children. What makes the film so great is that it does not judge them. The characters in the film are just people with various strengths and weaknesses. The story is thus very true to life and believable.
The print used for the Image DVD is superb. The picture quality could hardly be better with clear, sharp and detailed images. The black and white photography is truly beautiful. Unfortunately the sound quality is less good. There is quite a bit of background noise in some scenes. However, the sound quality is far from bad as the dialogue is always easily audible and the Aaron Copland score sounds fine. Anyone who is a fan of classic films should add this DVD to their collection.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2001
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
From 1939, arguably the most oustanding year for films in Hollywood history, this eloquent, moving and touching film is almost a forgotten piece of masterful moviemaking.
Lewis Milestone faithfully brought to the screen John Steinbecks time honored novel about two nomadic workers sharing a simple dream of one day owning their own farm. Lon Chaney gives his most memorable performance (apart from his portrayal's as tormented wolf man, Lawrence Talbot) as the immensely strong, but simple-minded Lennie. Burgess Meredith, in a fine performance too, plays his jaded travelling companion, George Milton. The two men seek work on a farm bucking barley, but their situation quickly darkens due to the aggressive, bullying attitudes of the owners son, Curley (well acted by serial cowboy, Bob Steele) and his bored and lonely wife, Mae (Betty Field)
In addition to this masterly casting, there is marvellous support lent by Charles Bickford as the straightforward head ranch hand, Slim.....Noah Beery Jr. as the kind hearted and easy going cowpoke, Whit....and noted stage actor Roman Bohen is simply unforgettable as the crippled old timer, Candy. Bohen solidly contributes to many key scenes throughout the film, and his on screen relationship with his faithful, old dog is exceptionally moving (aided by a poignant score from Aaron Copeland)
"Of Mice and Men" rightfully deserves it's place as one of the finest American films of the twentieth century. An inspiring piece of film making that will illict a wide range of emotions from fans of strong, story driven films. Simply, a must see !
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Yeah, yeah, so it's a major motion picture that has been forgotten, etc., but I never forgot it. I first saw it when I was 11 years old, and it shocked and saddened me the same way the Zapruder film did when I first saw it. (In other words, I burst quite unexpectedly into tears. I hadn't read the Steinbeck short novel yet.) I became a lifelong fan of Aaron Copland, the composer of the film's score, and I already liked Lon Chaney because of the Wolfman and Mummy movies, and also Burgess Meredith, pre-Batman and pre-Rocky. All I can say is, in addition to the very moving Candy's dog sequence, the end of the film in which the music softly swells up while the squirrel runs up the tree and the leaves fall has to be one of the most affecting scenes ever made. Also I found that as I grew older, the plight of Curley's wife Mae touches me profoundly. Just thinking of Slim saying "poor kid, I shoulda let her talk" makes me kinda sorta a little bit weepy. *sigh* a real gem. (And it's not really in B&W, but sepia.) I actually bought the movie on two LP's in the pre-video days, and my best friend and I used to sit and sob and listen to the last side of the four sides over and over in order to weep.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2003
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Of Mice and Men unfortunately gets lost among other great films of 1939 such as Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights and The Wizard of Oz. However this poignant portrayal of the Depression era West stands tall in its moral values and simplicity.
George and Lennie are itinerant farm workers hoboing there way through the west. The sharp minded leader George played superbly by Burgess Meredith has been looking after the dim witted beast of burden Lennie for years. He has crafted a scenario where they will accumulate enough money to buy a place of their own. He promises Lennie, who has a patholgic affinity for stroking soft things, that he will be able to tend the soft furry rabbits. Lennie makes George repeat their plans time and time again never tiring of the story.
They find work on a barley farm but soon the uncontrollable Lennie gets into trouble and their plans get altered.
Lon Chaney Jr. was obnoxiously fantastic as the mentally challenged Lenny. Burgess Meredith once again proves that he is one of the greatest character actors to ever have appeared on the American screen.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
OF MICE AND MEN might have been written for the stage: it naturally falls into scene divisions, with a lot of its drama presented in dialogue. Director Lewis Milestone, in making this film, broke that almost inevitable mold, rehandled the material and made it move in the flow-eddy-flow style of the screen and yet kept the essentials of events and characters true to their author's conception, which was, in itself the director's triumph. The story about two unfortunate men who dreamed a dream of having a home of their own, with a garden to eat from, working for themselves with no boss to rout them out of bed in the morning, the privilege of loafing or going to the circus without anyone's permission......Just "bindle stiffs", migratory farm workers tramping from job to job, this dream meant heaven-on-earth to them, but things happened, those fatal things that can't be called anyone's fault, and their plans went astray. As the painfully pathetic Lennie, Lon Chaney, Jr. had the role of his career (his WOLFMAN is decidedly a close second). Milestone soft-peddled Lennie to a considerable degree, and toned down a lot of Steinbeck's violence, to say nothing of his profanity. The unique Burgess Merideth is fine as George while the underrated Betty Field does commendable work as the flirtatious Mae. Steinbeck's tragedy was theatrical but Milestone and Eugene Solow's script gave it dignity, inevitability and an unusual strain of excitement.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
This is the legendary film that brought Lon Chaney Jr. to star status with his portrayal of dim-witted Lenny. Great story, great cinematography, great performances by Burgess Meredith as Lenny's "guardian", Charles Bickford and former cowboy star Bob Steele as the cruel Curly. Plot in a nutshell: George & Lenny are drifters, landing a job at a ranch and dreaming of the day when they own their own ranch, complete with a dozen rabbits for Lenny to take care of. Curly's wife flirts with the ranch hands, especially Bickford, which causes confrontations with Curly and the ultimate tragic ending. If you are a fan of Warner Brothers cartoons, you may be familiar with their over-usage of Chaney's Lenny in their films: "gee, George"..."whadja say, George?"..."I wouldn't hurt 'im, George"..."George is my friend"...you remember, right? Films can hardly get more classic than this. Do yourself a favor...add this to your collection!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2001
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
one of the greatest classics of all time. if not for such great insurmountable competition released during the same year, this one would have taken the oscar for best picture and garnered Lon Chaney Jr. an oscar. absolutely without refute, one of the great legends.
as for the DVD, you won't get any extras, just the movie and chapter selections. but the transfer is quite good, especially the picture. if you're an avid collector of the great classics, it's worth the money.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I have watched over 600 classic films in my study and enjoyment of classic film. I have watched many films made from a novel--Anna Karenina, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Farewell to Arms, etc. It seems there is always something missing in movies adapted from a novel...a film cannot always grasp the depth and "mind thoughts" of a book, for a book is more for the mind and the reader's own inner vision and imagination, and a film must deal with the outwardly visual, and so being, much can be lost in the film story. However, was I surprised when I found this DVD at the library and brought it home to watch. It was amazing! I read "Of Mice and Men" as a required novel in high school back in the late 70's. I remember liking the story, and I bought my own copy of the book (just as I did with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and I read it over and over as the years went by. I haven't read it in several years, but when watching this film, I remembered everything that happened. I wasn't sure I was going to like Burgess Meredith as George, but he was very good. And the same with Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie, and Betty Field as Curley's wife. Once the movie began, I felt these actors did a very good job portraying the characters as Steinbeck had them in his book. I was surprised with the realism of the film...quite gritty for 1939. Usually films really watered down issues and emotions back then, but this one was surprisingly quite open about them. I rarely cry watching a film, and this film had me crying...you felt so sorry for Lennie, for Candy losing his dog, for the 3 of them losing their "dream", and the ending...that was just an incredible ending for a 30's film. At our house we do not have TV and we carefully screen movies the children watch, and we stick to the classic years (1950's and prior) 98% of the time. I know some precodes, etc. are not for children, but I didn't think this film would be too strong for a child. Yes, because of the code, nothing was shown outright, but my 8 yr. old son really cried and was very sad when the gunshot sounded and Candy rolls over in his bunk. My son knew his dog was shot, and it was a strongly emotional scene without seeing anything! And my son cried when Lennie was in the barn with his little puppy who was dead from him being a bit too rough with him. Again, we don't see the dead puppy, but the implied idea is so strong, again my son burst into tears. I felt really bad for not being more careful for my son and his feelings; had I known this film was going to be so strongly emotional, I would have watched it when my son was in bed. I then knew I could not let him see the end; I figured if these 2 scenes of the dogs dying were so hard for him because of the implied realism and strong emotions, then the ending was going to be too. I was right, it was. And the final scene with George and Lennie is so well done, you felt what they were feeling. I was really crying...like I said, not many movies do this to me! I think the direction and filming was well done; some interesting camera work caught my eye. I can't believe this movie is so "forgotten"; it is just as great or even better than some of the other 1939 films- Gone With the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and MUCH better than The Wizard of Oz! I found I understand the story much better as an adult than I did in my youth. It is funny that schools make teens read these novels; because teens have not experienced life fully enough, they cannot fully grasp the truths of life such novels are presenting. Maybe some can, but I never did! Always, it was when I was older, got married, had children, experienced the routine and sorrows of life, that I could relate to such books; for I now have "been there" too. As an adult I could see the parallel of Candy's dog and Lennie. I never understood that when I was a teen in school. Anyway, this is an excellent film that no person who appreciates classic film should miss. I am glad I discovered it, and will definitely watch it again. I hear there are "film as literature" classes in schools now, and I would highly recommend this 1939 version of "Of Mice and Men" for such a class. Do please heed my warning though: if you watch this at home and have young children do not let them watch it with you; children are not ready to handle the strong emotions presented in this film. I would say wait until your child is at least 12 yrs. old.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Consider me a gigantic fan of this story, period. The short story (very short) by Steinbeck is phenomenal, and both adaptations (that I've seen) are great.
For me though, this 1939 film version trumps the 1992 version by maintaining a smooth naturalism and emotional resonance that transcends mere depression but actually capitalizes on hope. Mainly, this is due to the way George is portrayed. For me, Gary Sinise was the weak link in the 1992 version, playing George with too much agitation to make his emotional connection with Lenny feel genuine. Sure, that final scene still made me ball like a baby, but with this splendid version, Burgess Meredith delivers such an outstanding portrayal of earnest and humble love that I was really moved by him.
The story is simple yet very profound. During the depression, George and Lennie struggle to find work. They have dreams of owning a place of their own yet they lack the financial ability to make those dreams come true, yet they still hold to them.
Lennie, having been kicked in the head by a horse, is slower than the average man. He is a big man, too big, for his childlike behavior gets him into trouble when his manlike physic comes into play. Finally with work, Lennie and George find themselves closer to realizing their dream, but when tragedy strikes, in the form of a beautiful woman and a horrible accident, their dreams are shattered almost instantly.
I went on a pretty long explanation a few years back when reviewing the novel, so I won't really harp on it too much here. The story is a universal story of loneliness, hopelessness and humanity. Every character is longing for something, and every character is being held back and thus sharing in the holding back of those around them. There are your central characters (Lennie and George) and their obvious trials and aspirations, but there are also the lives of Mae, Curley, Candy and Crooks. They all are lacking basic essentials to human happiness, and in their attempt to find it they alienate and even jeopardize the happiness of those around them.
But, what this film adaptation does that the 1992 version doesn't is add a layer of hopefulness. I don't mean that in an absolute sense, because the film is a downer and very depressing, but the way the characters are played shows that they haven't completely lost their hope, becoming cynical and pessimistic. In the '92 version there is a lot of distilled agitation that bleeds through in the delivery of all the characters except Lennie (both Malkovich and Chaney Jr. are equally outstanding in their portrayals of Lennie Smalls). Here though, there is an almost cheeryness, like optimism is still at their fingertips.
That is why Burgess Meredith should have been nominated for the Oscar. Sure, Jimmy Stewart should have won, but Meredith should have been a close runner-up. His beautifully composed portrayal of George (caretaker, friend, worker, dreamer) is so complete and so moving. Just the way he shows mutual excitement when discussing his future plans with Lennie (an aspect of the '92 version I really didn't like, for George's frustration with Lennie's constant badgering about the rabbits gave George an air of destitute irritation) gives me a soft smile and a warm soul.
I won't say that the films conclusion is less heartbreaking than the '92 version, but it carries with it a sense of purity that dampens the pain.
The film is a knockout. I prefer this to the '40 adaptation of Steinbeck's `The Grapes of Wrath'. For me, `Of Mice and Men' really captures not just the authenticity of the situation and the reality of the desperation, but it captures the human spirit in all of its forms, showing us the harsh as well as the soft realities of what it is that makes us human in the first place.