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Lewis Milestone
Lon Chaney Jr., Burgess Meredith, Betty Field
Writing Credits:
Eugene Solow

Two itinerant migrant workers take jobs as ranch hands during the Great Depression to work toward their shared dream of owning their own ranch.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Dolby 1.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 8/26/1998

• Filmographies


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Of Mice and Men (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 6, 2020)

Though many regard 1939 as Hollywood’s greatest year, one film dominated the landscape: Gone With the Wind. A massive box office hit, it also won eight Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture.

Runner-ups from that year included The Wizard Of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach. Any of those could’ve won Best Picture in any other year.

The first adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1937, Of Mice and Men also became one of the Best Picture nominees. Steinbeck was a great writer and Mice was a fine book, but I have to admit the movie doesn’t work for me.

Set during the Great Depression, George Milton (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie Small (Lon Chaney, Jr.) take work wherever they can get it. Lennie suffers from cognitive disabilities and George cares for him the best he can.

Lennie and George dream of a day when they can own their own farm. They arrive at a new job on a ranch with hopes that their work will push them toward their goal, but various problems arise.

As noted, Mice seems to be pretty highly regarded as a movie, too, but I frankly don't get it. I may be in the minority on this issue - as the DVD case touts, even Steinbeck thought it was a terrific film - but I feel that the movie simply lacks heart and feeling.

This means Mice deals with the story in a broad, superficial manner and presents little sense of reality, a concept that's clearly at the heart of Steinbeck's writing.

So many of the characters feel like stereotypes that I simply can't buy them as people. They seem so cartoony that I feel little emotion or interest in any of them.

Ironically, Chaney's portrayal of Lennie remains famous because of cartoons. The Warner Bros. studios incorporated his character along with that of George into their Looney Tunes series, and did so with amazing accuracy. Mel Blanc perfectly mimicked the goofball vocal tones of Chaney with his constant requests to "tell me about the rabbits, George!"

While this duplication offers a representation of Blanc's amazing skills, it also occurs in large part due to the unrealistic portrayal from Chaney. His Lennie is an interesting character but he's so broad and emotive that no sense of true personality comes through and he's just a big goofy dude.

Betty Field also fares poorly as lonely wife Mae, for she plays the role as some sort of gumcracking moll. Okay, she doesn't actually crack any gum, but her sassy performance makes me think she should.

Field seems out of place as a neglected, bored Midwestern gal. She offers another reason why I can't feel involved in this film.

While Meredith does a competent job as George, he feels completely miscast. George should be a fairly simple man who's smarter than Lennie but still a pretty basic, down-to-earth guy.

Meredith simply seems too intelligent and quick-witted for the role. A bookish actor, he appears completely out of place in this rural setting.

As with Field, he'd seem much more at home in the city. Meredith doesn't appear embarrassing, but he lacks the grit and conviction to make the part work.

Aaron Copland's score also feels ridiculously overwrought, and it makes little sense in connection with the events. For example, the film's climax offers music that seems bizarrely whimsical before it then becomes absurdly overpowering.

Copland really pushes the emotional buttons to manipulate the viewers, but his choices often make no sense. This becomes yet another reason I never feel involved in the film.

Ultimately, I simply think that Mice fails the strong source material. I find little sense of the characters as real people and I never feel any investment or interest in them.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus D-

Of Mice and Men appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD. Due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 sets. Given its age, this wasn’t a bad presentation, but it wasn’t a good one, either.

Sharpness tended to seem mediocre. Much of the time, delineation came across as adequate but the image rarely seemed better than that, and it could appear somewhat soft at times. Some blockiness impacted the image as well.

I saw only minor signs of jagged edges and moiré effects, but light edge haloes impacted much of the time. I also suspected noise reduction became an issue, as the movie seemed too “smoothed out” much of the time.

Unsurprisingly, print flaws became a consistent companion. While this wasn’t a truly dirty image, the movie showed plenty of specks and marks.

Blacks tended to appear too dense and crushed, while shadows looked muddy and murky, without great contrast. Based on the movie’s vintage, I still thought it was good enough for a “C-“, but it’s not an impressive presentation.

A dialogue-heavy piece, the movie’s Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack did little to stand out as positive, but it was adequate for is age. Speech remained intelligible and acceptably natural, though some edginess came through at times.

Music lacked much range but also showed decent reproduction, and effects followed suit, with reasonably clear material. Occasional instances of crackling and background noise occurred, but most of the track sounded clean. This was a perfectly decent mix for an old movie.

In terms of extras, we find Filmographies for Lon Chaney Jr. and Burgess Meredith. That’s all she wrote!

I love Steinbeck but I simply can't recommend Of Mice and Men in this 1939 film version. It's broadly acted and lacks the emotional involvement and impact it should provide. The DVD comes with flawed picture and audio, and it lacks any real supplements. This turns into an iffy release for an inconsistent movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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