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, 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.
As in the play, all of the action takes place on the San Joaquin valley barley ranch. George and Lennie catch on as hands. Former’s strange wardship of the half-wit possessed of Herculean strength is never quite explained – in fact he wonders himself just why. George keeps Lennie close to him always – continually fearful that the simpleton will kill someone with his brute power. The pair plan to buy a small ranch of their own, where Lennie can raise rabbits, when disaster strikes.
Despite the lack of box-office names in the cast set-up, the players have been excellently selected. Burgess Meredith is capital as George, and Lon Chaney Jr dominates throughout with a fine portrayal of the childlike giant. Betty Field is the sexy wife who encourages approaches from the ranch workers; Bob Steele is her jealous and hard hitting husband.
1939: Nominations: Best Picture, Original Score, Sound