×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Of Mice and Men

Well-mounted and very traditional, "Of Mice and Men" honorably serves John Steinbeck's classic story of two Depression-era drifters without bringing anything new to it.

With:
Lennie - John Malkovich
George - Gary Sinise
Candy - Ray Walston
Curley - Casey Siemaszko
Curley's Wife - Sherilyn Fenn
Slim - John Terry
Carlson - Richard Riehle
Whitt - Alexis Arquette
Crooks - Joe Morton
The Boss - Noble Willingham

Well-mounted and very traditional, “Of Mice and Men” honorably serves John Steinbeck’s classic story of two Depression-era drifters without bringing anything new to it. Fine performances down the line and sensitive handling justify this attempt to introduce a new generation to the small tragedy of George and Lennie, although lack of any edge or fresh motivation to tell the tale will keep enthusiasm, and B.O. results, at a moderate level.

First published as a novel in 1937, “Of Mice and Men” has had continued life as a Broadway play, a Hollywood film starring Lon Chaney and Burgess Meredith, and a 1980 stage piece at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater that featured John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, who repeat their roles here.

Set in a lonely world of itinerant men in 1930, drama has a simplicity and a kind of gruff sentimentality that makes for almost sure-fire pathos if done properly. It’s a story of vulnerable creatures–human and animal–and how a rough world makes life a very tenuous matter for those without a proper set of defenses.

Horton Foote’s intelligent adaptation begins with George and Lennie fleeing a posse of dogs and armed men across the sunbaked California countryside. However, they are not at loose ends for long, as they have jobs lined up at a farm near Soledad, where acres of wheat need harvesting.

George (Sinise) is a quick-witted man of few but well-chosen words with no family or money to his name. His only charge is Lennie (Malkovich), a lumbering simpleton who has the mind of a child but the strength of an ox. People can’t quite understand why George has saddled himself with Lennie, and George spews out his resentment of his companion in one early scene, but they’ve gone as far as choosing a small spread that they hope to buy if they can earn enough money.

Dramatic gears start turning when the farm boss’s belligerent son Curley (Casey Siemaszko) starts picking on Lennie. Before long, Curley’s lovely, lonely wife (Sherilyn Fenn) begins hanging around the bunkhouse and barn, seemingly with an eye for George.

Story’s subsequent small events have a withering old farmhand (Ray Walston) coming apart when his ancient dog is taken out to be shot, after which he proposes to join with the new arrivals in buying a place, and Lennie crushing Curley’s hand after the latter provokes a fistfight.

Not knowing his own strength, Lennie accidentally kills the tiny puppy he’s adopted, then manages to tragically do the same to Curley’s wife, who has made the mistake of offering him some tenderness and intimacy. Both George and the audience must come to terms with the sad inevitability of the situation’s resolution.

Captured in lovely, burnished hues by lenser Kenneth MacMillan and evocatively realized by production designer David Gropman, the working world of the men is a hot, dusty place devoid of emotional outlets and career possibilities, and could not look more different from the studio-bound Lewis Milestone rendition of more than 50 years ago.

If memory serves, other alterations engineered by Foote and Sinise include rounding out the wife’s character (never given a name by Steinbeck) to emphasize her need for some human interaction; building up the role of a black animal hand (Joe Morton) who has a meaningful exchange with Lennie, the farm’s other total outcast; and changing the nature of Lennie’s death.

Performances are sterling. Malkovich’s odd looks, slightly crossed eyes and slurred speech are perfect tools with which to build a convincing Lennie. Even if the actor is not the giant described, he conveys the requisite gentleness and strength, as well as the sense of not being able to help himself when stirred to a rage.

Sinise is surprisingly effective, bringing to his role a reedy quality that contains both bitterness and qualified hope for better times ahead. His reticence makes believable his admission to the wife that he’s never had a sweetheart, and the harshness of the life he’s led shows through his good looks.

Outstanding supporting turn is delivered by Walston, who has rarely had the opportunity to shine on-screen as he does as the washed-up worker looking for a comforting way to end his days. Fenn hits a good combination of flirtatiousness and need as the ill-fated wife, and John Terry is quietly notable as the evenhanded crew foreman. Solid in more one-note performances are Casey Siemaszko as the nasty Curley and Joe Morton as the beleaguered Crooks.

Returning to the screen after his failed first feature, “Miles From Home,” and his stage success with “The Grapes of Wrath,” Sinise demonstrates that he knows how to deliver the dramatic goods on film, even if his interpretation of the work is very straightforward. While not especially exciting, this adaptation still proves emotionally engaging and somewhat moving.

Action is underlined with subtle effectiveness by Mark Isham’s fine score.

Of Mice and Men

Production: An MGM release of a Russ Smith/Gary Sinise production. Produced by Smith, Sinise. Executive producer, Alan C. Blomquist. Directed by Sinise. Screenplay, Horton Foote, based on the novel by John Steinbeck.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Kenneth MacMillan; editor, Robert L. Sinise; music, Mark Isham; production design, David Gropman; art direction, Dan Davis; set design, Cheryl T. Smith; set decoration, Karen Schulz, Joyce Anne Gilstrap; costume design, Shay Cunliffe; sound (Dolby), David Brownlow; assistant director, Cara Giallanza; second unit camera, Alan Caso; casting, Amanda Mackey, Cathy Sandrich. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 17, 1992. Running time: 110 min.

With: Lennie - John Malkovich
George - Gary Sinise
Candy - Ray Walston
Curley - Casey Siemaszko
Curley's Wife - Sherilyn Fenn
Slim - John Terry
Carlson - Richard Riehle
Whitt - Alexis Arquette
Crooks - Joe Morton
The Boss - Noble Willingham

More Film

  • Aniara review

    Film Review: 'Aniara'

    Each year brings an example or three of purported “thinking person’s science-fiction” films, a category that pretty much embraces anything not centered on monsters or lightsaber battles. These efforts are often more admirable in theory than result, but “Aniara” — the first film drawn from Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s 1956 cycle of 103 [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

    It’s been a long year for Marvel fans since the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but the wait is nearly over. The finale to the Infinity Saga is here, and while most diehard fans will know to avoid them for fear of spoilers, early reviews are mostly positive. Last year’s “Infinity War” took home an [...]

  • American Made

    'American Made' Plane Crash Lawsuits End in Settlement

    The producers of the Tom Cruise film “American Made” have settled all litigation surrounding a 2015 plane crash in Colombia that killed two pilots. The settlement resolves pending suits in both California and Georgia. A notice of settlement was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court on Monday. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content