Of Mice and Men (1939)

“I don’t say he’s bright — he ain’t; but I say he’s a good worker.”

Synopsis:
An itinerant worker (Burgess Meredith) and his mentally disabled friend (Lon Chaney, Jr.) arrive at a ranch where the surly son (Bob Steele) of the owner is unhappy about his wife’s (Betty Field) interest in a farmhand named Slim (Charles Bickford). When George (Meredith) reassures Lennie (Chaney, Jr.) that they will one day purchase a farm of their own, they pique the interest of both an elderly white (Roman Bohnen) and a marginalized black (Leigh Whipper) co-worker interested in joining them.

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Review:
Lewis Milestone directed this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s heart-wrenching novella and play, depicting a tale of friendship that truly tests the limits of our willingness to “do the right thing” under challenging circumstances. Meredith reprised his Broadway role, while Chaney Jr. was brought on board to play Lennie; both hit each note of their characters perfectly, and the rest of the supporting cast is excellent as well. (It’s particularly refreshing to see an African-American [Whipper] given a meaningful and nuanced role.) Aaron Copland’s score is almost a character in its own right, at times intrusive but never uninteresting. I find it hard to say much more about this film other than that everyone should see it — but be forewarned: while I rarely cry at movies, this one is an exception.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Burgess Meredith as George
  • Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lennie
  • Fine supporting performances by the entire cast


  • A heartbreaking screenplay, faithfully adapted

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful adaptation. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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