Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

OF MICE AND MEN (1939)


OF MICE AND MEN (1939). Director: Lewis Milestone.

"It's just havin' someone to talk with. It's just bein' with another guy."

George (Burgess Meredith) and his brain-damaged cousin Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrive at a ranch and hope to save up enough money to buy their own farm and be their own boss. The elderly Candy (Roman Bohnen), afraid of almost literally being put out to pasture, wants to go in with them, as does Crooks (Leigh Whipper), the black man who is isolated in his own shack away from the bunk house with the other men. But then there's the nasty little Curley (Bob Steele), the boss's son, and his bored, lonely wife, Mae (Betty Field), and the trouble they represent. John Steinbeck's heartbreaking tragedy is brought to the screen with great intensity and power and has many memorable moments: the death of Candy's dog; Curly gets his hand crushed; the climactic accidental death. Bohnen gives perhaps the best performance, but Meredith and Field are also great, and Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bob Steele are no slouches. Okay, maybe the acting is a little over-empathic at times, and Copland's score is nice but not that special. Still, this is one hell of a great movie. The streak of misogyny -- if that's what it is -- and the moral ambiguity of the ending, only make it more fascinating. Remade several times, including a version in 1992, starring and directed by Gary Sinise of CSI New York.

Verdict: Another masterpiece from 1939 and a great study of loneliness. ****.

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