I read the book Of Mice and Men when I was a junior in high school. I didn’t care for it much; I couldn’t figure out how John Steinbeck could fit so much misery into such a short book. And I haven’t read it since, but watching this movie made me want to, because even though the movie Of Mice and Men is still sad due to the utter hopelessness of these men’s lives, the fact that someone out there understands their situation and dreams and feelings gives hope back to those who feel downtrodden by life. I’m not a Depression-era drifter, but this movie gave me some hope. It made me realize that I am not alone in what I want out of life. That’s a very powerful thing for a work of art to do.
So what’s the story? During the Depression, friends George and Lennie go from ranch to ranch looking for work. George is a small guy, but he’s smart. Lennie is hulking giant; he’s mentally slow, but he works hard and is very kind-hearted, especially towards small animals. George and Lennie have a dream of having their own small place where they can farm for themselves and do what they want to do when they want to do it. They are starting work on a new ranch. Curly, the ranch owner’s proud, jealous son, has a wife, Mae, whom he constantly suspects of cheating. Being the only woman on the ranch is lonely for her, but it’s even worse because none of the ranch hands will talk to her because Curly doesn’t like it when they do. The tensions on the ranch are about to explode and take away George and Lennie’s dreams.
The Good: This movie was exceptionally well-cast. Lon Chaney, Jr. plays Lennie and does a wonderful job of playing a kind man who truly doesn’t understand his own strength. His performance is powerful, and I’m really trying to decide why he didn’t get nominated for an Oscar for it. Burgess Meredith plays George very well. He gives a very good performance of a man torn between his love and loyalty to a friend and his frustration when that friend makes mistakes that pull them both down. Betty Field, who plays Mae, also does a good job. Mae is kind of crass and low-class, but she’s also so lonely. Her desire to really live life is just bursting out of her. I felt much sorrier for her than I remember feeling when I read the book. The rest of the cast is good, too. The hands are especially sympathetic. I don’t know how they got such perfect people for every role, but it happened.
I noticed the music from the beginning. I kept thinking it sounded more symphonic, more complex somehow than a typical 1930s movie score. I found out that Aaron Copland wrote the music, and it suddenly made sense. It was beautiful music, and it didn’t overwhelm the movie like some scores did in the 1930s. It fit the movie just perfectly.
The Bad: I can’t exactly put my finger on just why I felt this way, but I feel like it dragged a bit in some places. I can’t really think of a boring scene, but the pacing was off somehow. Maybe it’s because when I watched it, my mind wasn’t the sharpest it’s ever been. So yeah. Take that comment with a grain of salt. Or better yet, watch the movie and tell me in the comments if I was right or wrong!
The Ugly: This is not a happy story. It’s the story of men living on the fringes of society, wanting no more than the freedom to make their own decisions about life, but who can’t rise above where their circumstances have placed them. The ending is heart-wrenching, because John Steinbeck understood life, and life is not easy.
Oscars Won: None.
Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best sound, recording; best music, scoring; best music, original score.
Random Fact: This movie was adapted from the play that was based on the book. Weird, huh?