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Of Mice and Men (1939 film)

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Title: Of Mice and Men (1939 film)  
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Subject: Lewis Milestone, John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, Aaron Copland, Threshing machine
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Of Mice and Men (1939 film)

Of Mice and Men
Theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Screenplay by Eugene Solow
Based on the novella Of Mice and Men 
by John Steinbeck
Starring Burgess Meredith
Betty Field
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Charles Bickford
Noah Beery, Jr.
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited by Bert Jordan
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • December 30, 1939 (1939-12-30) (United States)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Of Mice and Men is a 1939 film based on the 1937 play based on the novella of the same title by American author John Steinbeck. It stars Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Lon Chaney, Jr., Charles Bickford, Roman Bohnen, Bob Steele and Noah Beery, Jr. It was remade in 1992.[1]

The film tells the story of two men, George and his mentally challenged partner Lennie, trying to survive during the dustbowl of the 1930s and pursuing a dream of owning their own ranch, instead of always working for others. Starring in the lead roles were relative Hollywood newcomer Burgess Meredith as George, and veteran actor Lon Chaney Jr. (the son of famed silent film actor Lon Chaney Sr.) as Lennie. Chaney had appeared in more than 50 films to that point in his career, but Of Mice and Men was his first major role.

The film, produced by the Hal Roach Studios, was adapted by Eugene Solow and directed by Lewis Milestone. It was nominated for four Oscars. The musical score was by American composer Aaron Copland. Running in theaters in 1939, it disappeared for many years at a time until the 1980s and 1990s, when it slowly appeared in revival theater houses, video and cable and earned a following of fans (both audience members and film critics) who praised the movie for its brilliant interpretation of the Steinbeck novella.


Two migrant field workers in Weed where they were run out of town after Lennie's love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched and held onto a young woman's dress (not shown, but described).

While on a bus en route to the new ranch, Lennie—who, because of his mental illness, is prone to forget the simplest things or phrases but can only remember about the rabbits—asks George where they are going. George is aggravated about this and instead tells him about the work cards they got at the bus entrance, which Lennie does remember, but incorrectly remembers having them in his pocket, since George has both of them. After being dropped off 10 miles from their destination, George and Lennie decide to camp for the night by the Salinas River. When George points to Lennie the river, he runs to the river and dunks his whole head in it, drinking from it like an animal. George soon catches Lennie petting a dead bird, takes it away from him and throws it to the other side of the river for safety reasons. When Lennie hears that they are going have beans for dinner, he requests ketchup, to which George responds that they do not have any. At night, as George and Lennie are eating beans for dinner, Lennie requests for the same thing, with George responding angrily, stating that whatever they do not have is what Lennie always wants to have. This leaves Lennie puzzled, as he forgot that first response from earlier. This also causes George to have a long speech about Lennie's ungratefulness, childlike behavior and why they had to escape from Weed. Eventually, George eases the tensions by telling Lennie his favorite story about their future farm before going to sleep.

The next day, they arrive at the ranch near Soledad. They meet Candy (Roman Bohnen), the aged, one-handed ranch-hand with his ageing dog he raised since he was a puppy. After meeting with the ranch boss, Jackson (Oscar O'Shea), The pair are confronted by Curley, the small-statured jealous and violent son of the ranch owner, who threatens to beat Lennie to a pulp because of his height, as Curley has a huge hatred against men who are of large stature. To make matters worse, Curley's seductive, yet sadistic and conniving wife, Mae (Betty Field), in which Lennie is instantly attracted, flirts with the other ranch hands. George orders Lennie not to look or even talk to her, as he senses the troubles that Mae could bring to the men.

One night, Mae enters the barn in an attempt to talk with Slim (

The next morning, Mae confronts Curley, who says the same statement Slim gave him earlier but because Mae knows the truth, she taunts him, calling him "a punk with a crippled hand!" The aggravated Curley then tells her that their marriage is over, and that she is going to be kicked out of the ranch due to her carnal behavior against the ranch hands. She continues to laugh hysterically until she starts to weep, realizing she is now done for. Before she can leave, Mae enters the barn to pet a few of Slim's puppies, when she spots Lennie sobbing, after he killed his puppy stroking it too hard. When Lennie tries to leave knowing he should not be talking to Mae as ordered by George, she stops him from leaving and forces him to talk to her. Because there is a horseshoe tournament going on until dusk, Mae plans to talk with him until then. Mae explains to Lennie of what she wanted to be before Curley shattered her dream. When Lennie tells Mae that he loves to stroke soft things, Mae offers him to stroke her hair, telling him not to "muss it up." Mae starts to resist and scream when Lennie strokes her hair too hard. However, when Lennie tries to silence Mae, he accidentally kills her by recklessly breaking her neck unintentionally. This incidental situation crashes their own American dream.

When Candy and George find Mae's body, they tell the others, including Curley, who grows infuriated. As a result, a lynch mob gathers to kill Lennie. However, George and Slim go off to find Lennie alone, even letting Slim know that he had Carlson's Luger after he and Candy saw Mae's dead body. George and Slim separate and go off to find Lennie; George finds him first and, realizing he is doomed to a life of loneliness and despair like the rest of the migrant workers and wanting to spare Lennie a painful death at the hands of the furious and cold-hearted Curley, shoots Lennie in the back of the head with Carlson's Luger before the mob can find him after George gives him one last retelling of their dream of buying their own land. When the mob arrives too late, only Slim realizes what George had done, and hands the Luger to a local police officer as they leave the river.



Critical response

When the film was first released, Frank S. Nugent, the film critic of The New York Times, praised the film and the acting, writing, "And New York, unless we have miscalculated again, will endorse its film version, at the Roxy, as heartily as it has endorsed the film of the Joads. The pictures have little in common as narrative, but they have much in common as art; the same deft handling of their material, the same understanding of people, the same ability to focus interest sharply and reward it with honest craftsmanship and skill... No small share of that credit belongs to the men and the one young woman Hal Roach has recruited for his production. Miss Field has added stature to the role of the foreman's wife by relieving her of the play's box-office-conscious order that she behave like a hoyden."[2]

The staff at Variety magazine also reviewed the film favorably, writing, "Under skillful directorial guidance of Lewis Milestone, the picture retains all of the forceful and poignant drama of John Steinbeck's original play and novel, in presenting the strange palship and eventual tragedy of the two California ranch itinerants. In transferring the story to the screen, the scripter Eugene Solow eliminated the strong language and forthright profanity. Despite this requirement for the Hays whitewash squad, Solow and Milestone retain all of the virility of the piece in its original form."[3]

The film received very positive reviews, earning a 100% film score on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site based on eleven reviews.[4]


It was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Sound Recording (Elmer A. Raguse), Best Musical Score, Best Original Score.[5]


  1. ^ Of Mice and Men at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, February 17, 1940. Accessed: February 12, 2011.
  3. ^ Variety. Staff film review, 1939. Accessed: February 12, 2011.
  4. ^ Of Mice and Men. Rotten Tomatoes, film reviews, no date. Accessed: August 17, 2013.
  5. ^ "The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved : August 17, 2013. 

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