- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:acting (especially Ray Walston), cinematography, screenplay
Cons:the topography is a bit too far southwest
The Bottom Line: I'm assuming the story is familiar and contrasting the 1939 and 1992 film versions.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
The 1939 film of John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, directed by Lewis Milestone, is a thoroughly satisfying adaptation of an American classic with the best performances in the careers of Burgess Meredith, Lon Chaney Jr., and Betty Field. It also has the advantage of being naturally, visibly 1930sy. It also has an outstanding musical score by Aaron Copland and fine cinematography by Norbert Brodine.
The 1992 movie directed by and starring Gary Sinise derives from the stage production by the Steppenwolf company and costars Steppenwolf alumnus John Malkovich. (I first saw the two of them in the 1984 PBS adaptation of Sam Shepherd's "True West" that completely eclipsed by memory of the original production.) By 1992 Malkovich had become a movie star. Although Malkovich is 4 inches taller than Sinise, he is not very hulky (in the way Lon Chaney loomed over Burgess Meredith). Moreover, Malkovich's screen persona is of a menacing, crafty villain. Lennie is dangerous, but simple-minded, basically innocent. Knowing Malkovich was playing the role, I expected the kind of winking at the audience "You know this is all an act and I'm not really like this" of, say, William Hurt's Oscar-winning performance in "The Kiss of the Spider Woman," but Malkovich does not mug or wink and smirk like Hurt, and makes the well-worn lines about the rabbits fresh again.
As Lennie's protector from a dangerous world (and the world's protector from Lennie's physical strength), George, Sinise stays on an evener keel than I remember Burgess Meredith playing the part. Sinise's George is less crafty and scheming (and urbanite) than Meredith was, and, thereby, more convincing as someone going nowhere, doomed to working for others and dependent to some degree on Lennie to get work as a migrant farm laborer. (That is, what George gains from being Lennie's agent is clearer in the 1992 version.)
The 1992 version has beautiful color photography by Kenneth MacMillan (of locations even farther south than the 1939 version's somewhat too-southern California ones--in Santa Barbara county rather than San Luis Obispo county) with more time spent in the fields. The 1992 version also opens with a chase (supposedly somewhere near Weed, California, a junction on the northwest base of Mount Shasta) before any viewers unfamiliar with the story know who the characters are. There is more action in the 1992 version, but it adds nine minutes to the running time, mostly at the very beginning. (There is also visible blood in the 1992 version.)
Writing this review has convinced me that Sinise plays Steinbeck's character more convincingly than Meredith. Watching the 1992 version, I thought that Sherilyn Fenn was more sympathetic than Betty Field as Curley's wife (she has no other name in the novella or in either adaptation). Considering Fenn's abilities to portray vixenish, I assume that screenwriter Horton Foote sought to mute Steinbeck's misogyny and show the bored, trapped wife of the boss's son as victim more than vixen. She is still t-r-o-u-b-l-e, but it's more Curley's vicious bullying character than that women are the short road to hell and terrestrial disasters.
The performance in the 1992 version that most completely eclipses memory of the earlier one is Ray Walston's Candy. I think Walston also was aided by Foote in clearly foreshadowing the denouement, but as the depressed, momentarily giddy old man facing not much of a future, Walston is superb. (Having never seen him in his Emmy-winning role as a judge in "Picket Fences," I also have associations of Walston with other roles working against this part: Damn Yankees, South Pacific, My Favorite Martian, Kiss Me, Stupid.)
I am at loss to find anything to criticize. Mark Isham's musical score like that for the even more shimmering tale of a mismatched male pair, "A River Runs Through It"works well. Both versions stick closely to what Steinbeck wrote, have outstanding performances, strong visuals (stark 1930s' black-and-white, lush 1990s color), and the inexorablity of naturalism, rural American brand.
I wrote about Steinbeck's novella at http://www.epinions.com/content_10913484420
and what I think is the embryo of Lennie (Tularecito) from The Pastures of Heaven at
On the history of Steinbeck movie adaptations, see
and I would be remiss not to mention the splendid review of this movie that deaser26 supplied to the writeoff in honor of the centennial of John Steinbeck's birth at
I only added my own review to contrast the two versions.
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Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age