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John Steinbeck's classic comes magnificently to life in this stirring film. Best friends Lennie and George find themselves unemployed in Depression-era California, unable to keep jobs because of Lennie's childlike mentality. But once they get hired at the Tyler Ranch, they enjoy a brief period of stability - until their supervisor's wife becomes the victim of Lennie's compassion, forcing George to make a compassionate decision of his own...

Gary Sinise
John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Ray Walston, Casey Siemaszko, Sherilyn Fenn
Writing Credits:
Horton Foote, based on the novel by John Steinbeck

We have a dream. Someday, we'll have a little house and a couple of acres. A place to call home.
Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 3/4/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Gary Sinise
• “In Conversation” with Gary Sinise and Writer Horton Foote
• Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary
• Screen and Make-Up Tests
• “Making-Of” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer

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Of Mice and Men: Special Edition (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 4, 2003)

Like most literary classics, John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men has received multiple retellings via other media. However, when I examined how many times Mice hit the silver screen, I was surprised to learn that this has only occurred twice to date: the Oscar-nominated 1939 edition, and the 1992 version documented in this review. Mice also was adapted for TV twice – in 1970 and in 1981 – but we went 53 years between cinematic editions.

Directed by actor Gary Sinise, the 1992 Mice starts with scenes of characters on the run. A woman flees some unnamed peril, while we see two men race from a pursuing gang. We soon get to know the pair of males, George Milton (Sinise) and Lennie Small (John Malkovich). The brains of the operation, George exhibits a cynical world-weariness as he attempts to take care of Lennie and keep the pair alive in the harsh Depression-era economy. A brawny but intellectually deficient innocent, we quickly learn that Lennie doesn’t know his own strength; he harms animals and others due to overexuberance of affection.

Though down on their luck, they envision a happy future for themselves when they get their own farm and Lennie can keep rabbits. However, the present doesn’t seem so glorious, and the pair go to work on the Tyler Ranch. First they encounter crippled aging hand Candy (Ray Walston) and his similarly old constant canine companion. After the deal with the farm boss (Noble Willingham) they get to work and also encounter other denizens of the ranch. Most significant of these are the boss’s hotheaded, mean-spirited son Curley (Casey Siemazsko) and his neglected, flirty wife (Sherilyn Fenn). Curley takes an instant dislike to Lennie, while it seems clear that his wife has the hots for George – along with pretty much every other man on the farm, apparently.

George tries to warn Lennie to steer clear of problems, a notice that hints of past problems. Eventually we learn more of what happened with the girl seen at the start of the movie. The pair acclimate to the farm life and we check out various events. At one point Candy overhears George and Lennie as they discuss their future plans, and he begs for them to let him come with them. The trio come up with a plan to buy a particular farm in one more month, and the rest of the movie follows what happens during that time span.

A wonderful writer, Steinbeck’s work probably remains strongest on the printed page. Though apparently the author himself endorsed it, I didn’t much care for the 1939 film, mostly because the roles seemed miscast. That didn’t cause any concerns with the 1992 Mice, which presented actors who appeared more natural in their roles.

Possibly the biggest improvement comes from Sinise. While I felt Burgess Meriweather was a talented actor, he came across as too educated and bookish for George. Sinise manages to bring out the character’s earthy qualities in a more satisfying way, and one can more clearly see why Curley’s wife would gravitate toward him sexually. Sinise brings a nicely weary cynicism to the part but he also conveys George’s caring side as well.

As for Lennie, that character offers both an easier and tougher challenge all at once. On one hand, Lennie is so simple that he doesn’t require the same emotional range as the others. On the other, he becomes difficult to convey without slipping into cartoonish elements. That was my biggest problem with Lon Chaney’s work in the 1939 flick; he always felt like an excessively broad and unrealistic presence.

Malkovich doesn’t work wonders with the role, but he seems more grounded than Chaney. It’d be nice to see someone play Lennie without such a self-consciously silly voice, though I understand the actor’s dilemma. If Malkovich used a normal way of speaking, we’d find it more difficult to accept the character as mentally deficient. However, I think there must be a middle ground where the role can demonstrate some disabilities but not seem so goofy.

Despite the vocal issues, Malkovich presents a nice range for Lennie. He makes the character appropriately simple but doesn’t turn him into basic moron. This isn’t a great portrayal of a mentally challenged person, but it seems above average.

Sinise’s direction also comes across as above average, though as I noted earlier, I think the material continues to work best in novel form. Something about Mice tends to defy cinematic adaptation, and the story simply doesn’t function as strongly when depicted visually. However, Sinise gives us a nicely basic and grounded telling of the tale. He relates Mice in a fairly workmanlike way that avoids theatrics and excessive embellishment.

This absence of showiness is a good way to depict Of Mice and Men, for the story remains a simple and basic one. The movie feels honest and direct. It doesn’t telegraph its emotions as it stays low-key. While not a sterling film, Mice seems like a very good one.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio B- / Bonus B

Of Mice and Men appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-sided DVD-14; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture demonstrated a mix of positive elements, but its negatives cause many more concerns than I expected.

Most significant was the presence of edge enhancement. I noticed haloes around objects and characters through most of the movie, and they appeared genuinely excessive. This issue rendered much of the rest of the image problematic. Close-ups tended to look crisp and detailed, but when we went farther out than that, the picture often turned blurry. That factor varied. Some wider shots were acceptably detailed and accurate, but many looked muddy and ill defined. The edge enhancement created far too many issues in that domain.

Other concerns arose due to print problems. The image occasionally looked grainier than I expected, and additional flaws popped up throughout the movie. A fair number of specks appeared, and I also noticed various examples of grit, hairs and nicks.

Otherwise, the movie looked pretty good. Mice enjoyed a warm and natural palette, and the tones came across well at all times. The colors were deep and rich and the film showed a nice earthy tint. Black levels looked dark and dense, and most low-light shots demonstrated good accuracy and detail. A few of those scenes were somewhat heavy, but the blurriness due to the edge enhancement caused some of those problems. Overall, despite some good elements, the image’s general lack of definition and other concerns meant that it didn’t merit a grade above a “C-“.

While limited in scope, the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack for Of Mice and Men seemed reasonably satisfying. The audio remained pretty heavily oriented toward the front channels. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging and other elements helped create a nice sense of atmosphere. Elements like trains moved well across the spectrum and meshed cleanly. Surround usage tended to remain modest, as the rear speakers simply provided light reinforcement for the forward material.

Audio quality seemed acceptable in general. Speech displayed some edginess at times. The lines always remained intelligible, but they sounded a bit rougher than I’d expect. Music came across as vibrant and robust, however, and showed a good sense of dimensionality. Effects appeared clean and accurate as well. There wasn’t much to this soundtrack, but Of Mice and Men presented audio that seemed good enough to merit a “B-“.

MGM put out a basic version of the film in 2001, but this new Of Mice and Men DVD adds a mix of extras. On Side One, we encounter the film’s theatrical trailer and an audio commentary from director/actor Gary Sinise. He offers a running, screen-specific track that examines a number of areas related to the movie. Sinise tells us his history with the tale and what drew him to it as something he wanted to make into a film, and he also discusses the cast, locations, and general anecdotes from the set. One particularly interesting one deals with Malkovich’s height and the methods used to make him look bigger. Sinise talks about changes he made between the book and his movie, but as far as I recall, he never mentions the 1939 version flick. Sinise falls silent too often, but he still adds a fair amount of insight and useful information.

When we go to Side Two, we start with In Conversation – Gary Sinise and Horton Foote. This 27-minute and five-second piece sits the pair together to chat about the movie. It also includes some glimpses of the script and other archival materials plus some film clips. They discuss the story, their adaptation, and challenges that occurred along the way. They briefly reference a dislike for the 1939 flick but they mostly focus on their edition and why they did what they did. Some of the material repeats from Sinise’s commentary, especially since he dominates the “Conversation”. The pair also toss out an excessive amount of praise for each other and various participants. Nonetheless, they give us some good notes, and Foote’s story about the time that he met Steinbeck adds to the proceedings.

After this we find a collection of 11 Deleted Scenes. All together, these last a total of 18 minutes, and they can be viewed with or without commentary from Sinise. Most of the segments go by pretty quickly; only George’s visit to the brothel and the extended ending fill substantial time. None of them seem terribly useful; the extra footage at the end adds nothing, and the cat house piece is slow paced and dull. Sinise’s comments give us some good background notes and lets us know why he cut the material.

The Sherilyn Fenn Screentest lasts seven minutes, 35 seconds and offers three takes on a scene between Curley’s wife and George in the barn. The Make-Up Tests area presents 11 minutes and 40 seconds of silent footage that shows Fenn, Casey Siemaszko, Ray Walston, Malkovich, and Sinise in various guises.

Next we get a five-minute and 50-second Making-Of” Featurette. From the time of the film’s original release, this piece shows movie clips, shots from the set, and then-current soundbites with Sinise, Malkovich, Fenn, co-producer Russ Smith, and author’s widow Elaine Steinbeck. Essentially a glorified trailer, this one offers a little background information, but it mostly just lets us know about the story and characters. Other Great MGM Releases ends the DVD with additional ads.

An appropriately low-key adaptation of a classic novel, Of Mice and Men didn’t set my world on fire, but I enjoyed it. The movie related the tale in a nicely subdued manner and it seemed largely compelling. While the DVD presents adequate sound and a fairly positive set of supplements, picture quality appears moderately weak. That latter factor means I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Of Mice and Men, but I think this package seems strong enough for me to give it a generally positive appraisal.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4545 Stars Number of Votes: 44
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