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'Of Mice and Men': John Steinbeck Socially Conscious Classic Academy Screening

Lon Chaney Jr, Burgess Meredith in Of Mice and Men
Lon Chaney Jr, Burgess Meredith in Of Mice and Men

A newly restored sepia-tone print of the 1939 Best Picture nominee Of Mice and Men will be screened in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' series “Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939” on Monday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The evening will begin at 7 p.m., with the 11th chapter of the 1939 serial Buck Rogers, starring Buster Crabbe and Constance Moore; the comedy short Dog Daze, featuring the Our Gang brats; and Night Descends on Treasure Island, about the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair.

Of Mice and Men is one of the movies I need to revisit, as I saw it many years ago. Adapted by Eugene Solow from John Steinbeck's Depression Era-novel about a mentally retarded man and his companion working as farm hands at a ranch, I do recall that the film version of Of Mice and Men suffers from some heavy theatrics.

That's curious, since by then the film's director, Lewis Milestone, had already handled dozens of motion pictures, including the Academy Award-winning All Quiet on the Western Front. Milestone surely knew how much melodrama would fit on the big screen; even so, he gave Burgess Meredith (who did come from a theatrical background) free rein to chew up the ranch's scenery.

Burgess Meredith, Betty Field in Of Mice and Men

On the other hand, Lon Chaney Jr., as the dim-witted lug, and Betty Field (above, with Burgess Meredith), as a bored and heartless farm wife, deliver solid dramatic performances. Both, in fact, should have received Oscar nominations in the supporting categories.

Of Mice and Men garnered four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture (Hal Roach, production company), Music - Original Score (Aaron Copland), Music - Scoring (Copland) and Sound Recording (Hal Roach Studio Sound Department, Elmer A. Raguse, sound director).

Also, I should note that the relentlessly dramatic Of Mice and Men was produced by Hal Roach, who specialized in (mostly low-brow) comedies.

Also in the cast: Charles Bickford, Noah Beery, Jr., Roman Bohnen, and Bob Steele.

Lon Chaney Jr, Burgess Meredith in Of Mice and Men

Tickets for Of Mice and Men are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Curtain time for all features is 7:30 p.m., and pre-show elements will begin at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

Ron Chaney

Ron Chaney, grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. and great-grandson of Lon Chaney, prior to a screening of Of Mice and Men presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday, July 27, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Photos: Todd Wawrychuk / © A.M.P.A.S.

Ron Chaney


         
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1 Comment to 'Of Mice and Men': John Steinbeck Socially Conscious Classic Academy Screening

  1. Isaac

    In the article above on “Of Mice and Men”, some direct opinions are given re' heavy theatrics and actors chewing up scenery. The worst of the comments has to do with undue praise of Chaney's performance as Lenny.

    Make no mistake, Steinbeck 's deep understanding of the era and of the human condition is second to none in the history of dramatic writing.

    Burgess Meredith though never a huge star, was among the better actors of his era, and Betty Field was able to play the wife with the deepest and most heart wrenching honesty in the face of great difficulty when you consider the enigmatic and well near impossible demands of the character, she is almost a non existent person in print, but Betty Field breaths life into her to transcend the sexy slut stereotype that could so easily have be portrayed.

    The faults are mainly in the direction, where the story has been stilted by the over concentration upon specific scenes and character traits, rather than a smooth transition from setting to setting, which would have allowed the story line to develop and weave its magic.

    Lon Chaney Jr was a big ungainly man who suffered from the same physical problems as Broderick Crawford, but without Crawford's great acting skills.

    Here he stacks all the character on the surface, allows a sing song cadence to establish and persist (which the director should have clamped down on in the rehearsal stages) and plays the emotion repeatedly, which no actor should ever ever do.

    Like Shakespeare, it is impossible to entirely ruin Steinbeck and enough of the master prevails in this great film.