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The Next Reel • Season 12 • Series: 1940 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees • Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

“I remember about the rabbits, George.”

Capturing Steinbeck and Americana on the Big Screen

Having been writing novels for 10 years, it made sense that eventually, Hollywood would turn to John Steinbeck’s novels as a source for the silver screen. The first film to make the transition was Of Mice and Men, a novella he originally wrote as a ‘playable novel’ and then as a play itself. To that end, it was already the perfect size for adapting. And to that end, the film works just as well as the story. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our series on 1940 Academy Award Best Picture nominees with a conversation about Lewis Milestone’s 1939 film Of Mice and Men.

Here’s a hint at what we talk about.

For a relatively simple story, a lot happens and the story works through a variety of topics. How does the story handle a character with an intellectual disability and what does it say about those who take care of others, whether it’s this character or an aging dog? What about race relations? (To that end, it may be less pointed than the book but the film still feels like it handles race better than Gone With The Wind does.) The script changes how Mae – the only female character in the book and the only one with any real presence in the film – fits into the story. Here, we get a sense of the tragedy of this character, which does a lot to paint the gender differences in this place at this time. There’s also the moralistic, religious, and humanistic angles we discuss.

The casting is fantastic. Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr. play our two leads and deliver complex, compassionate performances that are the beating heart of this film. Betty Field plays Mae and rounds the character out with resonance and depth that never were on Steinbeck’s pages, even if possibly inferred. The rest of the cast fits impeccably into their roles. Lewis Milestone directs and handles the story effectively and efficiently. And having Aaron Copeland score the film only enhances its feel of Americana.

This film stands strong as a version of this film that’s worth remembering. It’s definitely one of the best films of the year and certainly worthy of its Best Picture nomination. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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