John Steinbeck's moving story of two Depression-era drifters, George (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie (Lon Chaney, Jr.), gets a powerful adaptation under the masterly helm of Lewis Milestone, based on the sharply written scenario by Eugene Solow.
The film works as a specific historical saga, grounded in its political context, as well as an allegorical morality tale about poor ranch hands trying to find a safe place to live in a harsh and hostile world.
The acting of the whole ensemble is excellent, particularly Meredith as the protective father-figure George, and Chaney in the difficult role of the childlike retarded Lennie. Superbly cast, every part in the film is well-played by the likes of Betty Field, as Mae, the bored, flirtatious wife, whose encounter with Lennie ultimately leads to his merciful demise. Mae's husband Curley, the ranch owner's vicious son, is played by Tom Steele, better known as a cowboy star in B-Westerns.
The tale is uncompromising in its grim implications, with the proper mood established by Aaron Copelan's terrific, Oscar-nominated score.
This version is far superiorto John Malkovich's 1992 remake, which is decent, but has no fresh insights and is not nearly as touching and lyrical as Milestone's rendition.
George (Burgess Meredith)
Mae (Betty Field)
Lennie (Lon Chaney, Jr.)
Slim (Charles Bickford)
Candy (Roman Bohnen)
Curley (Bob Steele) Whit (Noah Beery, Jr.)
Jackson (Oscar O'Shea)
Carlson (Granville Bates)
Crooks (Leigh Whipper)
Oscar Nominations: 4
Picture, produced by Lewis Milestone
Cinematography (b/w): Norbert Brodine
Sound Recording: Elmer Raguse
Original Score: Aaron Copland
Oscar Awards: None
In 1939, which is considered by many historians to be the best year in Hollywood's history, “Of Mice and Men” competed for the top award with nine other films: “Dark Victory,” “Gone With the Wind” (which swept the Oscars), “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “Love Affair,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Ninotchka,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Wuthering Heights.”
It's safe to speculate that neither Meredith nor Chaney, in what may be his strongest screen role, received Oscar attention due to the fact that so many good films containing many good performances were released that year.