Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Written by John Steinbeck (novel)
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Noah Beery, Jr.
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Studio Hal Roach Studios
Distributed by United Artists
Release date December 30, 1939
Running time 111 minutes
The 1939 version Of Mice And Men is a film that has perhaps been forgotten a bit over time, especially when compared to some of the other movies that came out during 1939/40. It is quite easy to forget just how great this movie was and how iconic the performance of Lon Chaney Jr. is as Lennie. I guess part of the reason for it to be forgotten in this country could be because it was banned from being released here in Australia for about twenty or so years, thanks to our diligent Chief Censor Creswell O’Reilly who deemed this film to be morally inappropriate to be screened here because… well actually after watching the film I cannot see any reason for it to be banned other than we were (and probably still are) quite prudish. That there doesn’t seem to have been much outrage at the time that a best picture nominated film was banned from being seen by us Aussies is a bit of a concern.
As I said earlier in this post Lon Chaney’s performance as Lennie is quite iconic and it is a shame that it has been overshadowed by his latter role as the Wolf Man. The Lennie character and Chaney’s portrayal of him were parodied numerous times over the next two decades by animators Tex Avery at MGM and Chuck Jones at Warner Bros with the most obvious parody is the Avery cartoon Lonesome Lenny in which Lenny calls Screwball Squirrel ‘George’ and… well see for yourself.
Of course when ever you see a cartoon character talking about ‘tending the rabbits’ they are parodying Chaney.
Also I think Burgess Meredith’s performance as George should be mentioned. Most people only know Meredith as The Penguin from the Batman TV series or as Mickey from the Rocky films, so it is good to see him in his younger days. He gives a great performance as George who is always looking out for the ‘slow witted’ Lennie as can be seen in the final scene where he must make a harrowing decision.
Overall this is a prety good film. I have previously seen the 1980s version with Randy Quaid as Lennie but feel that this version was much better. It is of course based on John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel which is also a great read.