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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

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Of Mice and Men (1939) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Two Depression era bindlestiffs George Milton (Burgess Meredith) and his big mentally retarded “cousin” Lennie Small (Lon Chaney Jr.) beat a hasty retreat from Weed one step ahead of an angry mob. They hop a freight and the door closes to reveal a titular graffito (from Robert Burns's 1785 poem, “To a Mouse [on turning her up in her nest with the plough]”):

The best-laid schemes o'mice an'men Gang aft agley.

It's a portent that their big plans will go awry. That's reinforced when the bus driver lets them off prematurely for #3 ranch giving George a chance to scope out a bolt hole for Lennie when things go (inevitably) south. Disaster looms when they find the ranch owner's son Curley (Bob Steele) has a small-man chip on his shoulder against tall dudes—like Lennie—and Curley's air­head wife Mae (Betty Field) feels so neglected she'll converse with anyone stupid enough to listen. At this ranch even beloved pets get sacrificed.


By and by, Lennie discovers the ranch hand Crooks (Leigh Whipper) living by himself in a room attached to the barn, rather than in the bunk­house with the rest—he's “not wanted”. ¶“Why,” Lennie asks him, “ain't you wanted?” Replies Crooks, “Because I'm black.” I suppose one could make some­thing of that, but when Crooks offers to work for free, i.e. as a slave, on their dreamed-of spread, the writer takes the wind out of those sails.

Crooks perceiving a friendly meet welcomes Lennie, “C'mon in, set a while.” He ends up holding court in his place with Lennie and his two partners who trickle in. This fraterni­zation fulfills the first of the four-part (Prov. 30:21-23) “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat; For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.” Know-it-all Crooks disturbs the peace of the place when he taunts Lennie:

Crooks: “Suppose George went to town tonight, you heard of him no more. Just supposin'.”

Lennie: [upset] “He won't do that. George won't leave me. He'll come back. Don't you think he will?”

Crooks: “You want me to tell you what would happen? They would take you to a booby hatch. They'll tie you up with a collar like a dog. Then you'd be just like me. Living in a kennel.”

George arrives to Lennie's relief, but George is chagrined when he discovers Lennie has spilled the beans to Crooks about their secret plans. Finally, their third partner Candy arrives. Crooks says, “Come on in. You might as well. Every­body's coming in. Kinda like a race track.” Then the master of this little shack, the would-be slave, mocks their plans, saying he's seen a lot of failed plans. Every­body is on edge by this time. But that's not all of it.

“The earth is disquieted … and … it cannot bear: For … a fool when he is filled with meat.” It's Saturday, payday, and George heads into town with his pay, where he's accustomed to spending it on drink, dames, and games. Even if he can restrain him­self now that he's got an investment to guard, he'll be leaving Lennie at home unsupervised, which is not a good idea.

“The earth is disquieted … and … it cannot bear: … For an odious woman when she is married.” That would be Mae who annoys her husband to no end and finally gives him “the horse laugh. HA, HA, HA!” Candy observes: “Seems to me like Curley's worse since he got married. Like he's sittin' on an ant hill.”

“The earth is disquieted … and … it cannot bear: … For an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.” Candy's sheep dog got too old to work and has grown decrepit and smelly—it lives in the bunk­house, too. Rather than put it out of its misery, Candy continues to care for it when his care should be lavished on the next generation, a new litter of pups. The message is not lost on the men, for whom the mule skinner Slim (Charles Bickford) speaks up, “Carlson's right, Candy. That poor dog ain't no good to him­self. I wish some­body'd shoot me when I get old and crippled.”

The Great Depression was an onerous burden for all to bear patiently. It only made matters worse for every­body when the people in this story behaved contrary to the sense of the proverb above.

Production Values

This classic, “” (1939) was directed by Lewis Milestone. John Steinbeck had adapted his novel Of Mice and Men into a play that ran on Broadway from the 1936–37. Eugene Solow then formulated it into this screen­play. It stars Lon Chaney Jr., Burgess Meredith, Betty Field and Roman Bohnen. Bob Steele was cast as the troubled son of the ranch owner and Betty Field as his head­strong wife. Steinbeck him­self was on the short side (5'3") so perhaps felt a sympathetic connection to the short son. Charles Bickford as the tall quiet type reminded me of John Wayne. He played the self-possessed skinner splendidly. Betty Field got to seem a bit like a broken record with her endless wifely complaints. Various other characters came across with their own contributions.

It was rated DVD–PG in the UK. Music by Aaron Copland was award-worthy. The book was based on a real person whom Steinbeck was aware of, a man who had killed his boss with a pitch fork and ended up in an asylum. In the movie the wife lacked other women to converse with, and the Negro like­wise lacked any of his own kind to chum around with. Maybe Steinbeck means to suggest the dim­wit should have been placed some­where appropriate with others like him.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

The 1966 pop song by Sandy Posey, “Born a Woman.” includes the words, “A woman's place in this old world/ Is under some man's thumb.” The expression ‘under one's thumb’ derives from English common law that held a man may beat his wife, but the switch he beats her with cannot be thicker than his thumb. In the movie Curley wears gloves all the time; in the novel he wore one glove on his right hand to keep it soft for his wife. It's big Lennie's thumb one needs to avoid being under, not the appropriately chastening husband's. Lennie just didn't know his own strength. There's some kind of lesson here that shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

This movie “Of Mice and Men” is based on a classic novel and should resonate deeply with the human condition. It's a thinking man's story.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Special effects: Average special effects. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.