John Steinbeck is unquestionably one of America’s most important authors and this film adaptation, superbly directed by Lewis Milestone, is regarded as the best of the three-film adaptation of his most famous play. There are many aspects of the play that are faithfully transferred to the screen – Steinbeck’s understanding and sympathy for the migrant workers’ plight, society’s callous treatment of the elderly, and discrimination against Blacks.
The film is also remarkable in its own right, with great direction, cinematography, a brilliant score by Aaron Copland (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score in 1939), and great performances by Burgess Meredith as George Milton, Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lennie, Charles Bickford as Slim and Bob Steele as Curley. In fact, Chaney’s portrayal as the feeble-minded, but incredibly strong Lennie, has to be the definitive interpretation of the role and should have won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
As it has been so often described, it really is the ultimate buddy film, brilliantly capturing the hope and frustration of trying to achieve a better life, as so eloquently stated in the opening credits, “The Best Laid Plans Of Mice and Men.”
At the end, after Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife, and George realizes he must shoot him before the mob gets to him, we share George’s pain at having to take the life of an innocent person not responsible for his own actions. It is an incredible moment, as George tells Lennie once more about their plans to have their own farm and live “off the fat of the land,” then moves closer to shoot him, taking his best friend’s life.
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
- 1939 Oscars: BEST PICTURE NOMINATION
- 1939 Oscars: BEST SOUND RECORDING NOMINATION
- 1939 Oscars: BEST MUSICAL SCORE NOMINATION
- 1939 Oscars: BEST ORIGINAL SCORE NOMINATION