From the Page to the Screen – Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men Review

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From the Page to the Screen – Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a 1937 novella written by John Steinbeck. It is one of his greatest works. It is set during the Great Depression and is about the friendship between two very different men and the struggles they face. The book is very short, but powerful to this day so it received two film adaptations – one in 1939 and another in 1992. I am going to compare both movies to the book so let’s see which one is the more accomplished work.

 

THE 1939 VERSION

The 1939 film was made just two years after the novella’s release. It was really respected back in that day as it was nominated for four Academy Awards and it received good praise from critics. But because it was filmed in black-and-white and was technically pretty weak and because it came out in one of the best years for film ever, it is mostly forgotten nowadays which is a shame as it is a pretty good adaptation, but a very flawed one indeed.

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Of Mice and Men Movie Review

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PLOT

The film’s storyline follows the book very closely, even too closely according to some. Naturally, I loved how faithful it is and it flows really well too. The film is two hours long which meant that it adapted almost all of the novella’s scenes which is again respectable. No matter how good and well adapted the story here is, it never overcame its hurdle in the form of Curly’s wife as she got too much screen rime and thus robbed us of seeing the more important characters more.

WINNER – BOOK

 

CHARACTERIZATION

The characters here are actually very good. Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. are both very strong as George and Lenny and, as I said above, Curly’s wife is much better and less stereotypical in this story. But most of the other characters weren’t as memorable as they were in the book which again stems from her overwhelming presence.

WINNER – BOOK

 

EMOTION

The dog, Curly’s wife and of course that ending all involved some very emotional scenes here, but they just never could compete with the sheer power of Steinbeck’s descriptions of the emotional state of the characters and those great tragic chapters.

WINNER – BOOK

 

THEMES

As is usual for this category, the film loses and here it is pretty evident as it relies on telling the story faithfully and portraying the characters well, but just never enough on hitting those hard truths about discrimination and the American Dream among others.

WINNER – BOOK

 

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

This is the easiest choice for me. The film was filmed in black-in-white when it obviously needed Technicolor. Add to that very poor cinematography, a weak use of its setting and an overall uninspired look to it and it is clear that Steinbeck’s imagery and descriptions were infinitely better.

WINNER – BOOK

 

BOOK 5: FILM 0

This was a clear victory as the book swept every category. But I have to emphasize that even though it may sound that I am trashing the movie here, that is not the case at all, maybe in that last category only. This is just the case of a competent, good movie that just never reached the greatness of the novel in all of its aspects.

 

 

THE 1992 VERSION

This adaptation was released 53 years after the previous one and it is my favorite of the two for sure. It was directed by Gary Sinise and this film was mostly his own accomplishment as he both starred in it and directed it. The film is pretty much forgotten these days and that is so unfortunate as it should be remembered as the definite cinematic version of this story.

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Of Mice and Men Movie Review

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PLOT

The story is again very faithfully adapted here, almost scene by scene. I loved how traditional it is and they never modernized it or changed any of the plot points at all. Well, they only changed the ending which is actually done for the better as George leaving the ranch felt more natural and the murder was so intense and tragic the way it was filmed. But even though the ending is better, the rest of the story is just repeated from the book and never improved.

WINNER – BOOK

 

CHARACTERIZATION

Everyone gets their fair share of development this time around and each of the characters was so well brought to the big screen and nobody gets left behind. They are all so good, but not as vividly portrayed as in the book.

WINNER – BOOK

 

EMOTION

The novella is highly emotional for sure. But the movie is even more so. That is because the acting is so great, especially from Gary Sinise, and that ending is so well filmed and just perfect. Lennie’s death is even more tragic here and the flashback in the end was so moving.

WINNER – FILM

 

THEMES

This is the only aspect in this otherwise superb adaptation which is clearly lacking. They only told us this story and filmed it without any themes to it and the dialogue is certainly not memorable or particularly smart.

WINNER – BOOK

 

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

Steinbeck’s writing is very good and his descriptions are also strong. The movie, on the other hand, benefits from a visual representation of it that, although not particularly cinematic, is fueled by awesome scenery and excellent attention to detail in recreating this time period.

WINNER – FILM

 

BOOK 3: FILM 2

Now this one was not a huge victory. Still the book is better and in more important aspects, but there is no denying the greatness of this second adaptation and it is to be admired that it came so late in the game and proved so strong. In the end, both movies are good, but the modern one is the better one by a mile and the novella remains the best and a classic of 20th century literature. But the fact that we got two good movies is a rarity and thus they need to be treasured.

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