Two drifters, one a gentle but slow giant, try to make money working the fields during the Depression so they can fulfill their dreams.
***Steinbeck's classic book comes to life with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich***
Based on the classic John Steinbeck novel and released in 1992, the story focuses on two traveling companions desperate for work in rural California during the Depression: George (Gary Sinise) is of average stature and smart whereas Lennie (John Malkovich) is big and mentally challenged. They get a gig at a big ranch while dreaming of owning their own one day when the opportunity suddenly presents itself. Unfortunately, the arrogant son of the owner, Curley (Casey Siemaszko), and his flirtatious wife (Sherilyn Fenn) complicate matters. John Terry is on hand as Slim, Ray Walston plays Candy and Joe Morton plays Crooks.
I've been a fan of this potent Western drama/tragedy ever since I read the book as a teenager and both this version and the 1939 version are worthy film adaptions (I have yet to see the 1981 TV production with Robert Blake and Randy Quaid, which I've heard is good). It seems that you just cannot do a 'bad' "Of Mice and Men," as long as you have decent actors and filmmakers.
Some people scoff at the moral of the story, as if it all comes down to shooting your aged, useless dog yourself, but it's way more than this. It's a commentary on the nature of companionship and loneliness: Whereas George and Lennie compliment each other many of the other characters languish in isolation, like Candy, Curley's wife and Crooks, even Slim. Questions of strength, weakness, usefulness, reality and utopia are explored as the story leaves you scratching your head.
Comparing the two versions, I slightly prefer the newer rendition because it's in color and is just overall better made with a superior score and cast with the exception of Lon Chaney as Lennie. Malkovich is very effective in the more recent version, but Chaney's Lennie is just more likable. While I don't like the addition of cussing in the 1992 rendition, it's probably more realistic and it isn't so bad that it makes the movie unwatchable (for me anyway). In any case, Sherilyn Fenn is a vast improvement over the original's Betty Field, who's annoying and not desirable enough to pull off the part (but, then again, she might be desirable to male ranch hands with no other females within a dozen miles).
The film runs 115 minutes and was shot in California.
***SPOILER ALERT*** (Don't read further unless you know the story)
Curley's wife has only ever been valued for her sexuality, which she has learned to use to attract attention. Not only is she the only female character, she's also the only character not to be given a name in the book and the 1992 version, which emphasizes that she's a sexual plaything, currently owned by Curley. She was repressed by her mother and taken advantage of by men who made her empty promises. She prefers to believe that her mother stole her letters from the "Hollywood" man who used her, instead of accepting reality. She is married to a boor who places little value on her and so she seeks the only attention she can get from the men on the ranch as the only woman there: sexual attention. The contact with Lennie in the barn is as far as sexual as it gets. When she says "It feels good" to have her hair stroked, she isn't speaking sexually. She is enjoying the only nonsexual attention and affectionate touch she has had in a very long time, if ever. It is almost a meeting of children between this woman who long ago lost her sexual innocence but remains hopelessly naïve, and Lennie, who also longs for soft things in his life. It is a beautiful, tragic scene.
Someone argued that Curley's wife wanted to get Lennie on her side so that he would kill Curley and she would be free to leave. If Lennie killed him, no one would believe him if he ever said that she told him to do it; and since she didn't do the deed herself, she could easily leave and start her life over, hopefully as a movie star. While an interesting theory, the young woman doesn't come across this devious or cunning in the story where her actions are more natural and naïve. Similar to Lennie, she was a child in an adult body, albeit not mentally challenged. She was starving for companionship, but none of the other men would hang out with her due to Curley and the threat of losing their job. Lennie was alone in the barn and so she just took advantage of the occasion to converse with someone. Add to this the fact that Lennie was the only man on the ranch to humble (conquer) her arrogant SOB husband, whom she hated. Plus, she noticed earlier how Lennie appraised her with obvious awe. So there was a subconscious attraction and she wanted the gentle giant to touch her, stroke her hair; perhaps to "reward" him.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Gary Sinise, John Steinbeck, Horton Foote.
Stars: John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Ray Walston, Casey Siemaszko.
Genres: Drama, Western
Keywords: dream worker country life farm worker farm error great depression
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