First off, I cannot discuss Of Mice and Men without giving away some major plot spoilers, you deserve fair warning. Second, I want to encourage everyone to read the book by John Steinbeck before seeing the film, I feel it only enhances the experience. Besides, it’s a pretty thin book, not like I’m sending you out to read War and Peace.
In the midst of the depression, two migrant workers stick together as they move from job to job. George (Burgess Meredith) takes care of his large and strong but mentally slow partner, Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) out of a promise to Lennie’s mother. While Lennie is a good worker, he gets in trouble easily, which sends the duo on the run and searching for a new job constantly. Through their hard times, George dreams aloud with Lennie about owning their own piece of land they can farm and keep the profits for themselves where they can be safe and content and Lennie can tend the rabbits. Before starting their new job on a new ranch, George prepares Lennie as best as he can, planning a place to meet just in case he gets in trouble, again.
At the ranch, there seems to be a good mix of obstacles to avoid and opportunities for a better life. Most of the men are accommodating and understand that Lennie is a gentle giant. Then there’s Curley (Bob Steele), a mean spirited small man who likes to pick on whichever man is biggest, but messing with Lennie is never a smart move. Curley’s wife (Betty Field) is nothing but trouble as well. As the rest of the men bond and hear about George and Lennie’s dream, some of the men suggest to pool their savings together. Suddenly, the dream seems attainable, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
As far as film adaptations of this work goes, I find this to be my favorite. The focus of the story is to be on the men, their comradery and the tensions between them, and it is. The acting is wonderful, I especially enjoyed Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Lennie. As far as the sets and visual effects go, everything is up to par, in a smart but conservative manner. This isn’t a story that needs many frills, so the film doesn’t have many either, I think it works perfectly.
My first experience studying Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was one of the first times I had to critically argue about a work of literature. I was a high school senior, and for the past twelve years my teachers had been content letting me be the quiet thinker, but not this term. Once this teacher knew from my papers that I could understand some deeper ideas found within literature, she began to call on me constantly. Reluctant at first, I discussed the symbolism in poetry and some social ideas presented in Huck Fin that had my peers grasping at straws. By the time we got to Of Mice and Men, I had learned to play devil’s advocate pretty well.
Now, trying to intellectually discuss Of Mice and Men with some teenage girls can be a headache, even if you’re a teenage girl yourself. I’ll never forget the hour of class spent arguing about Lennie’s end with a few classmates who decided the whole world could have turned to sunshine and rainbows if only Lennie was allowed to live. After trying to explain how the story is full of partnerships that have to split apart for the greater good and illustrate that Lennie’s fate was more humane than that of the dog, the only argument they ever used was simply, “killing is wrong.” At some point, I exasperated something along the lines of, “This is a piece of literature, not a trial.” I never expected to be so thankful for such a long day in literature class, but I find myself thinking back to it when some heated discussions arise on this blog. Thankfully, all my readers who leave comments are much more insightful people who make fun and intelligent arguments.
“Look across that river, cause I’m gonna tell you like you can almost see it.”