The fact that director Lewis Milestone had to sue, to enforce a contract, to get Of Mice And Men made, says a great deal about the movie and its director. Milestone was a filmmaker of many parts -- in the silent era, he had been known for his skills as a director of comedies, while with the dawn of sound films, he was responsible for one of the most enduring and serious dramas of the time, All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), which is among the earliest sound films that is considered easily watchable by modern audiences; and across the 1930's, he moved between romantic comedies (The Captain Hates The Sea) and serious, topical dramas (The General Died At Dawn). But it was with Of Mice And Men in 1939 that he came into his own as a stylist. Producer Hal Roach, who usually preferred comedic subjects, only agreed to make the movie in settlement of a lawsuit that Milestone had filed against him -- he ended up with one of the most prestigious movies ever to come out of Hal Roach Studios, nominated for four Academy Awards. Milestone knew what the property was worth, not just as a story but as a canvas, and it was with Of Mice And Men, that he truly came into his own as a stylist. This adaptation of John Steinbeck's short novel, appearing just two years after the book's publication, was released in the same year as John Ford's more prestigious and star-powered adaptation of the author's The Grapes Of Wrath, and yet it still managed to impress critics and audiences. The performances by Burgess Meredith as George and Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lenny (a role he had to maneuver and campaign for to earn a shot at) possess and immediacy that makes them seem like finely-honed theater work. And Milestone also got superb performances out of a supporting cast that included Bob Steele (essaying his first "serious" role, after years of playing in B-westerns), Betty Field, Charles Bickford, Noah Beery, Jr., Leigh Whipper, and Roman Bohnen. For many of those concerned, this movie would be some of the best work they ever did; with just a few lines in a very spare script, all of these players create memorable and finely-etched characters, that audiences know and understand in just a few frames, their work filling out the corners and background of this story in fine, full dramatic form. Composer Aaron Copland, then 39 years old and coming into the production on the late end (as film composers usually do), also rose to the occasion, on his first opportunity to score a movie. The result was a poetic and lyrical film that was perhaps a little less bravura than Ford's masterpiece, but no less haunting in its nuances and its overall impact. Milestone later tried to repeat the artistic success, working as an independent producer/director under the auspices of Republic Pictures, on The Red Pony, with slightly less impressive results.
cast-crew for Of Mice and Men on AllMovie
Of Mice and Men (1939)